IPOH: At 93, masters athletics sprinter Pushpanathan Letchmanan uses “old age” as an asset rather than a crutch.
The verve of the nonagenarian is electrifying: he challenges himself, aims high and keeps his internal flame alight with an aura of age-defying spirit.
There’s an intensity to his lust for life and running and the lifelong exerciser is not about to make any concessions to age.
“Never allow anything or anyone to define who you are at any stage of your life,” Pushpanathan said. “We have to do what brings us joy.”
He said magic moments and having passions were vital for older people to stimulate their lives.
Pushpanathan’s moment of glory as a masters athlete came three years ago when he took the 400m gold in his age group, with a time of under 150s, at the Malaysian Open Masters Athletics Championships in Kuala Lumpur.
That made him one of the oldest track champions in Malaysia and according to him, his win “is a nice example of what you can do with yourself.”
In May, he will represent Perak Masters at the same meet also at Stadium Universiti Malaya, but this time in the 100m and 200m sprints in the 90-94 age group.
Pushpanathan said he hopes to clock about 20s in the 100m and under 75s in the 200m.
He made his debut in the Malaysian Open Masters in 2018 and won the silver in the 400m.
The championships might not have been held in the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the lean Pushpanathan has stayed in shape.
Standing at 170cm tall and weighing 53kg, he does a two-km run – jogging and sprinting – and yoga on alternate days and daily exercises to build strength.
“Getting into sports made me strong and helped me to improve my appetite and eat well too,” said Pushpanathan whose wife, Mangleswary is 90. They have a daughter, Shanti and two grandchildren.
“I want to keep running as long as I can. You have to stay active if you want to be healthy and happy as you age,” he said.
Shanti said her father’s love for sports was so great that he would give up anything for it.
“As I was growing up, I was a little disappointed about him spending too much time on athletics but I accepted it later as it made him active, focused and happy,” she said.
Pushpanathan, a former English and language teacher, whose last posting was at SM Raja Chulan in Ipoh (1976-1982), was a middle-distance runner in his younger days and got involved in athletics in 1957.
In his early years, he focused on junior development and helped coach some athletes who shone at state and national levels.
He went on to stamp his mark as a track and field technical officer at state, national and international competitions and was also the assistant athletics venue manager at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games.
At the recent Perak Masters Athletic Association annual general meeting here, Pushpanathan received applause for his bottomless reserves of energy and service to athletics over the past 65 years.
Its president Tamil Chelvan Govindasamy, an ex-state 400m hurdler, said masters athletes like Pushpanathan have shown that there was no recipe for success “other than to follow your dreams”.
Citing George Bernard Shaw’s quote, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing”, he said records were made to be broken, obstacles to be beaten and objectives to be met and surpassed.
The association’s patron Danny Sridaran Arumugam, a former sprinter, said: “There is always something to aim for and it never ends. May we be as athletic in our advanced years as those who enthusiastically take part in masters athletics.”
“So, whenever someone tells you that something is impossible, tell them there is 93-year-old Pushpanathan and others who, with overwhelming self-belief, prove that age doesn’t have to slow you down,” he said.