“I could not complete my dream of making a career as a sportsman, but I now see thousands of children from rural India fulfilling their dreams with a little help from me,” says 42-year-old Anil, with a hint of a proud smile.
Anil Kumar Patil lives in Korochi, a village in the Kolhapur district, and has been training students to participate in track and field events for the past 20 years. He started out with 15 students in 1996 and has coached over 1000 students till date. He trains his students free of cost.
Anil always had a passion for sports but faced stiff opposition from his family. Balu Patil, a journalist from the nearby village, convinced Anil’s parents to allow him to participate in a local sporting event. “In the under-18 category, I completed the 800 metres race in 2 minutes 2 seconds and it became a state record in 1992,” recalls Anil.
However, due to the lack of proper guidance, he was unable to compete at various levels and had to give up on his dream.
Anil went on to acquire a Diploma in agriculture, and now works as a fieldman at a sugar factory in Narande from 9-5, and trains students throughout the year for two hours every day, in the morning and evening.
There are two categories of students he trains — the above-18 category which seeks physical fitness training to clear competitive exams, and the other is the below-18 category which trains for sporting events. Abhijeet Kulkarni, one of Anil’s friends, helped him by providing land for training.
Students from villages near the Kolhapur and Sangli district have been a part of Anil’s academy. “Every year at least three students from my centre win in the sporting events at the national level,” says Anil. In 2003, Kiran Bindge, one of his students, won the National Championship in New Jalpaiguri for 3000 metres running event in the under-17 category.
In 2010-11, Dipak Kumbhar, another student went on to compete at the international level in 21 km half-marathon and 12 km cross-country at China.
Anil runs three sports centres in Korochi, Umalwad, and Takavade under the name of National Sports Club. Every student trains for at least two years under the guidance of Anil and manages to compete at the national level with the award money they receive at various events.
However, the journey has been challenging, and funding has always been a significant issue. There have been times when the lack of funds prevented his students from competing in various events.
Anil runs the centres entirely from his savings and receives help from his former students as well, but regrets the lack of sponsorship for athletes from rural India.
Many companies have approached Anil and asked him to start a ‘professional’ academy and charge fees, but he courageously sticks to his decision of not charging any money for the training.
Talking about the challenges he has faced in this journey, Anil says, “Initially, my family didn’t support me, but once they started witnessing the tremendous progress and growth shown by the students, they started to show an interest.”
Looking back at his journey he says, “My passion is athletics, but I never dared to fight for it. Today, I realise the irreversible loss I incurred, but that doesn’t stop me from helping others reach their destiny.”