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When 52,000 children ignore all odds, run a marathon and 3 win in visually-challenged category!

Ipsita Sarkar | Updated on: 7 November 2016, 12:29 IST

Namita Kumari, Sinki and Deepa are on cloud nine. The trio ended up winning the top three positions in the massive Salwan Marathon, which was started in 1995 by Inder Dutt Salwan, a member of the Salwan Education Trust. The girls emerged victorious in the 4.5 km marathon, in the visually-impaired category. The trio is from R.V.A.K Senior Secondary School, Vikaspuri.

"We'd practice everyday in the morning. No cheating," the winner Namita tells Catch. The first and second runners-up - Sinki and Deepa - chip in. "Yes, yes. We practice everyday. Sometime in the zero period, sometimes during assembly. We've been practicing for more than a month," they say.

Their physical education teacher, Mamata Yadav, is proud. With reason.

On Sunday morning, over 52,000 children gathered in smoggy Delhi's green cantonment to participate in the world's largest marathon of school students. About 2,800 visually impaired and differently-abled children participated in the special race. The marathon witnessed participation from various schools across India, including children from regions such as North-East, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Indian Olympians - boxer Shiva Thapa and national record holder in shotput Manpreet Kaur - also participated in the event.

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Despite the smog, pollution and poor visibility, the sheer number of children walking and running on the ground was mind-boggling. Catch spoke to some teachers who said that dropping out of a such a large scale event did not make sense, despite the pollution.

"We did consider using a pollution mask for children of our school and even went ahead to arrange it," says Yadav. "But we were scared for the safety of our visually impaired children. When each girl is wearing the same mask, it would be difficult for teachers to differentiate between them. And accidents may occur, because they (children) could feel suffocated," she added.

World's largest school marathon

"My father was once visiting an exhibition, where he met a child. He asked, 'What game do you play?'. The child replied 'Video games'. This is when he realised that children are not going out. He decided, they need to go out and get involved in sports. Thus in 1995, he started the marathon with 300 kids," recalls Samrata Diwan, spokesperson of Salwan Marathon.

Over the last two decades, the Salwan Marathon grew tremendously in size and participation. This Sunday, the 21st edition of the event, witnessed the participation of 3,000-odd volunteers, more than 49,000 children and 2,800 special children.

Today, the marathon has eight different categories - visually impaired, differently-abled (4.5 km), under 14 girls and boys (4.5 km), under 16 girls and boys (6 km) and under 18 girls and boys (8 km) races.

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At the end of the marathon, a group of volunteers started cleaning the grounds, picking up littered juice packets and plastic water bottles. This year, the organisers took a series to stringent measures to maintain the standards of the marathon.

"As part of the initiative to ensure an even playing field for all participants, the organisers put in place stringent mechanisms to root out any possibility of doping and fudging by participating school children. Salwan Marathon, with SRL Ltd., conducted dope and age verification tests for the top 20 winners in each category. Along with this, multiple cameras and GPS tracking systems were put in place to track the distance, location and time taken to run the course including checking if the runner has completed the entire route. As a result of these checks in place, this year no student was found indulging in any malpractice like doping and age fudging," stated the organisers.

The sponsorship of the event comes from various corners. "But we pump it back into the society," says Samrata Diwan. "We've adopted visually impaired children. We've also opened two schools in Bihar and Patna," she adds.

"Salwan Marathon's mission is to inculcate the spirit of sports among children and to showcase what sports can do beyond sports. It has really been wonderful to see the kind of response that the Salwan Marathon has seen year after year. In the near future, we want to take this marathon to other cities, especially non-metros. In the last 21 years and today as well, the winners in majority of the races have been all from the rural belt, so we want to take the marathon there," Diwan further said.

First published: 7 November 2016, 12:29 IST
Ipsita Sarkar @piercingharmony

Ipsita writes on education with focus on schools, higher education (engineering, B-Schools), HRD ministry, policies, and startup ecosphere. She's previously worked with Hindustan Times and Shiksha.com.