Probably miracle is the most suitable term that could be attributed to Dr Ashis Roy, the Marathon Man of India, who came as a resource person in the recently held Refresher Course on Yoga, Physical Education, and Soft-skills, organized by UGC-HRDC, Gauhati University.
When Dr. Roy was introduced to the participants by Prof (Dr) Saikia as 85 years young (!) man, the sound echoed in the hall was ‘wow’. Indeed, even in his middle eighties, he looks much fitter than many young men.
Born on June 1, 1932 in Shillong (Meghalaya), Dr Ashis Roy did his schooling at Govt High School, Shillong, intermediate science at St Edmunds College, Shillong, Medical Studies (MBBS) at Assam Medical College, Dibrugarh, and finally MD (Medicine) at Pune University.
He joined Indian Air Force in 1957 and retired in 1978. Thereafter he practiced privately as consultant physician and cardiologist at Delhi where he is permanently settled at present.
His education and medical career helped him serve the humanity through healing physical ailments. Then, his sporting took him beyond where he could do the job more profoundly by making his body as a specimen.
He landed in this field as a runner for the first time at Shillong in 1949. Then he was 16. It was a one-mile race. At that time, perhaps the Shillong boy never thought that his first one-mile race would open the door of immense opportunity for the runner in him.
The journey that Dr Ashis set out at the age of 16 (1949) continued until the age of 81 (2012). In this span of 63 years, he ran 115 full marathons and 33 half marathons. Out of them, he did 40 in India and the rest in other countries with a number of record-breaking achievements.
His every marathon is a long story in terms of his thrill, challenge, and determination. Hence one article is too small space for an author to inscribe on his marathon experience.
At the age of 22 years (1954) the Marathon Man ran a ten-mile race at Dibrugarh in one hour forty seconds the record of which is unbroken till now.
Then it took him several decades to run his first marathon, for his job in Air Force did not allow him enough time to pursue his interest. But nothing can stop one from doing what he is passionate about when he has an indomitable spirit. Dr Ashis proved that by running his first marathon in 1985 at the age of 53 at New Delhi. Since then, he moved on and on in this career.
To pick up a few of his innumerable achievements is indeed a difficult job for any person like me. Anyway, his full marathon in 1987 at New Delhi for the selection of World Veterans Games at Melbourne, 1987 (where he earned the unbroken national record of marathon), World Veterans Marathon in April, 1986 at Athens (where he became the first Indian to run in Panathenaic Stadium), World Veterans Marathon in October, 1986 at Vancouver (where he stood 18th out of 57 runners of age group 50-59 yrs.), 100th Boston Marathon in 1996 (in which he was the only Indian out of 40,000 runners and stood 57th out of 160 runners of age group of 60+), Millennium Marathon Burlington in 2000 at Canada (where he stood first in 60-69 age group), Self-Transcendental Marathon 2008 in USA (where he stood first in 70+ age group), his 100th (in 2010) and 115th (in 2012) marathon at Mumbai are the few of his numerous achievements.
It is equally difficult for a runner to choose one achievement as the best. For it is like a parent’s choice of one from his/her own children as the favourite. However, when asked, Dr. Ashis said it was his 100th marathon that he enjoyed the most.
It made him the first Indian to run 100 marathons. And after the completion of his 115 marathons in 2012 at the age of 81 his name was showcased in Limca Book of Records on January 20, 2013 as the oldest marathoner in India. Again, his feat in this field enabled him to get 100 Marathon Club Membership Card in 2015.
However, all these feathers in his cap did not come free. He had to withstand the rigours of many adversities in several marathons he undertook. One such incident took place in Mumbai marathon on February 15, 2004, where he had to run in extreme heat covering his head with a wet towel to beat the heat.
Moreover, there was no provision for water booths on street. It was indeed painful to hear him say, “This is the only marathon I ever ran where there were no water booths or any assistance. This is the only marathon where I received no finisher’s medal or prize. Simply, it is the worst marathon of my life.”
It is his strong willpower that helped him face the odds that came on his way. With this exorbitant power in him, he faced the threat posed by his backache and subsequent paralysis of the right lower limb.
Fitness and willpower are the prerequisites of everything we do. Dr. Ashis seems the personification of these finest qualities. His books Joy of Running and Wonderful Joys of Running explain how to acquire these excellences.
This is why probably his presence in the academic event like Refresher Course is meaningful where academics are trained with new ideas and suitable examples.