Friday September 28, 2012
En-lightning tale of survival
By RAJES PAUL
USAIN Bolt, the world’s fastest man, is nicknamed Lightning Bolt.
But that very same word – lightning – evokes painful memories for our own former national sprint queen Datuk M. Rajamani.
That’s because when she was at the peak of her athletics career – at 24 years old – Rajamani was struck by lightning and it marked the end of her glorious four-year reign as Asia’s sprint darling.
Forty-five years may have passed by since that day, but Rajamani still has flashbacks of the grim incident.
Recalling that horrifying incident, the 69-year-old Rajamani said: “I was training at the field with hopes of qualifying for my second Olympic Games (in Mexico City) that year. I was with two others – Govindan and Cheryl (Dorral) – at the Police Depot field. It was March 21, 1968.
“We were hit by lightning. Our other team-mates thought we were fooling around as all three of us fell to the ground. I was unconscious for 18 hours and fighting for my life.
“Unfortunately, Govindan died on the spot. I lost my memory and it took me three days before I could even recognise my father.
“I remember lying on a bed in the third class ward. “But when word got around that Tunku (Abdul Rahman) will be visiting me, I was moved to the first class ward.
“He did not show up but sent me a bouquet of flowers. I was given an assurance that the athletics association would pay the bill but, after three months, nothing happened and my family had to fork out our own money. I guess nothing much has changed with the MAU (Malaysian Athletic Union).
That incident, she said, has served as a reminder of how lucky the current Malaysian athletes are.
“Nowadays, our athletes get excellent medical treatment. All their expenses are taken care of. Even the facilities at the training grounds are world class,” said Rajamani.
“But despite all this, we are still lagging so far behind and that makes my heart ache.”
Before she was struck by lightning, the Tapah-born Rajamani shot to stardom when she won the 200m, 400m and 800m in record fashion at the MAU National Championships that earned her a ticket to her maiden Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964.
She also blitzed the track with four gold medals at the 1965 SEAP Games in Kuala Lumpur and three at the 1967 edition in Bangkok.
Her crowning glory came at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1966 when she became the country’s first woman to win an Asiad gold in the 400m with a Games record.
The two-time National Sportswoman award recipient was close to tears as she spoke about the challenges she faced in her journey to reach the pinnacle.
“I was sleeping a lot after my Form Five examinations and my dad decided that enough was enough and sent me to coach R. Suppiah. I never had my afternoon naps after that.
“I had to struggle through life. I used to borrow a bicycle to get from Silibin to my training centre in Coronation Park,” she said.
“Sometimes, the brakes on the bike would give way and I had to stop it using my foot, especially when going downhill!
“I will not forget my good old running spikes too. I re-used them countless times. When they were worn out, my dad would go to our neighbourhood cobbler to get them fixed.
“Finally, a sponsor stepped in to give me a brand new one,” added Rajamani, who earned RM280 a month as a trainee teacher in 1967.
“I was very independent. I paid my rent from the small income that I earned ... It took a lot of discipline and commitment to excel in both my athletics and teaching careers.”
As a teacher, she also coached her school’s students and Marina Chin, one of Malaysia’s track darlings in the 70s, was one of her proteges.
Rajamani also became a qualified physical trainer and handled the Thomas Cup squads in 1992 and 1994.
With her wealth of experience and undying passion to keep Malaysian sports thriving, Rajamani has these words of wisdom for aspiring athletes and the MAU: “Take pride in donning the national colours.
Nothing should be in your mind except to hear the national anthem being played. Money can come and go but the joy of being the country’s ambassador supercedes everything else,” she said.
“During my time, athletes had good rapport ... we stuck together. I remember once when my team-mates accompanied me back to my house after I told them that a few boys were disturbing me. Now, people mind their own business.
“It is also important to have sports officials who are compassionate and care for the athletes’ welfare.
“Over the years, I have not seen any progress in MAU. I hope the new faces will take the sport back to its glory days,” added Rajamani, who is currently an active member of the National Athletes Welfare Foundation (Yakeb).
Rajamani still running strong — for a noble cause