`Soldierathon`- the unique name & its posts on social media on the social media caught my attention last week.
On checking, I found that it was an initiative taken by Maj (R) SurendraPoonia – my friend for seven years. I met Sunny when I was working on an article on the President Bodyguards. He was posted as the Medical officer of the regiment. But the medals on his breast pocket and the Balidan Badge said a lot more about him.
Major Poonia told me how an idea suggested by none other than the ex-president DrAbdul Kalam, became a reality in the form of Soldierathon.
During a regular visit to Dr.Kalam in 2013, the former President noticed that Maj Poonia was quite sad. He asked him the reason for his sadness. There had been a terrorist attack in J&K that killed 6-7 soldiers and one of them very young, who had just become a father.
Dr Kalam took Major Poonia for a walk and said: “Those who make the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty have done their job to make this country and us more secure. Now everyone of us, as a common citizen, must do our bit to take care of martyrs’ kin. We must ensure that they get proper health care and most importantly, their kids complete their education in their chosen area.”
After a short pause, Dr. Kalam continued: “While being a Special Forces operative, you have been a dedicated sportsman of international repute. Why don’t you organize a sporting event that can bring masses closer to the armed forces and contribute to this noble cause I just discussed?” (Ah!I forgot to mention that Maj (R) Poonia has represented India in five World Championships and has won 27 medals including 10 Golds. A separate article is required to narrate how he achieved it on his own. Will share his story soon)
Poonia liked the idea. Being an athlete himself, he suggested a marathon and even proposed the name `Army Marathon`. Dr Kalam liked the idea but not the name. He suggested that Sunny work on the plan and not worry about the funds. He promised to extend maximum possible help.
Poonia tried different names and somehow Solider Marathon or Soldierathon struck him. He immediately rang up Dr Kalam’s Personal Secretary to fix an appointment. When he suggested the name to Dr Kalam, his eyes lit up instantly.
Thus started a herculean task for Major Poonia.
He started planning for the event and raising funds. In a country where sports equals just cricket, raising funds for a marathon proved to be a major challenge. And then came a bigger shock. While Sunny was in Ireland participating in Word Medical games in July 2015, he lost his Guiding Star. Dr.Kalamdied on 27 July.
It had a great impact but being a soldier, Sunny did not give up. On coming back to India, Sunny worked even harder to make Soldierathon a reality. He studied different races organised in India and abroad, got information about official procedures and met serving and retired officers who promised all possible support. A few friends joined him and a small team was formed. Blade runner Major and ParamVir Chakra awardee Subedar Major (R ) and Honorary Capt. Bana Singh agreed at once to participate. They became the first brand ambassadors of the race. Mrs India 2017 Capt Shalini Singh, Wife of Shaheed Major AS Bhadauria, Kirti Chakra, became the next brand ambassador.
Sunny met a number of serving and retired officer and explained the idea. It is because of his relentless efforts that Soldierathon’s mentor team now include India’s finest military officers like Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, Lt Gen Ashwani Bakshi, Brig Dr. Arvind Lal, Major Gaurav Arya & Srijan Pal Singh (Advisor to Ex President Dr.Kalam).
Maj (R ) Poonia started alone and has come a long way but, despite the overwhelming support, he is far from achieving the target.
Team Soldierathon has decided to collect at least Rs3 Crore and donate equal portions (i) for education of children martyrs (from Army, Air Force, Navy and para-military forces BSF, ITBP etc.), (ii) to Indian Army’s Artificial Limb Centre (ALC) at The Armed Forces Medical College, Pune and (iii) to Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre, Kirkee, Pune. Sunny and his team have been running from pillar to pole to get a donation but sadly, have managed to arrange just 10% of the targeted amount.
It is an irony that in a country of 1.3 billion people and 3 Trillion-dollar economy, they are struggling to raise a token amount for this noble cause.
They are struggling but their morale is not down. As Major (R) Poonia said: “We will put our 100% and make this happen. Failure is not an option because the cause is much-much bigger that you and I…….. We just can’t afford to fail. Because it will not be an individual’s failure but the failure of the idea, failure of the noble cause. I won’t let that happen`.
The First Soldierathon is scheduled to take place on 11 March 2018 in New Delhi at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium). Around 25000 runners are expected to run for our soldiers.
Ask yourself a question - Will you run like a soldier, for a solider and with soldiers? That is the least we can do for our martyrs and their children.They need your complete support to raise funds for this special race being organized in honour of the Soldiers.
Please visit this link to donate/support this cause and do forward the same to your friends and family. No gift & donation is too small for a great cause like this.
You can also visit the official website for more details http://www.soldierathon.com/
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