A daily wage labourer’s son from an impoverished village in Uttar Pradesh, Asian Games bronze medallist race walker Ram Baboo’s journey from penury to fame is a fascinating story of a strong-willed man making his own destiny. Baboo, who won a 35km race walk mixed team bronze medal in the Asian Games along with Manju Rani, worked as a waiter to self-finance his athletics training and joined his father in road construction under MGNREGA scheme during the COVID-19 lockdown, as his family was hard-pressed. “I have done everything possible in my life so far, from working as a waiter in Varanasi to digging up pits along with my father for road construction under MGNREGA scheme at our village,” the 24-year-old Baboo told PTI in an interview.
“It’s about determination and focus on your goal. If you are determined to achieve, you will find ways to reach your goal. That is what I did.” Baboo’s father works as manual labourer at Behura village at UP’s Sonbhadra district, earning Rs 3000 to 3500 per month which is not enough to run a family of six. Baboo is the only son while he has three sisters. His mother is a homemaker and sometimes helps her husband in his work.
“We don’t have any land and my father is a labourer. His work is seasonal. During paddy season, he will have more work but in other months his income is less. So, I need to do all these things to realise my dream,” he said.
“I was not good at studies and not interested also and so I wanted to make a career in sports.” Due to his mother’s insistence, Baboo took the entrance examination for Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNV) near his home and got selected. He was admitted to class VI.
Baboo found it tough to follow what was being taught at the school and he began to lose interest in studies. Two years into the JNV stint, something made him decide on his future course of action towards his goal — the 2012 Olympics — where India won six medals.
“I was in class VII then and I watched at my school hostel television the likes of Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Sushil Kumar and Gagan Narang winning medals. The stories also came out in newspaper front pages the next day, and I read all of them.
“In fact, I kept cuttings of the newspaper articles and photos of the 2012 Olympics medal winners and kept them in my folder.” When he was at the JNV, he played all sports, including football, and he found out that he did not get easily tired even after a lot of running, unlike the other students. That was when he decided he would do long distance running.
He initially ran marathons, 10000m and 5000m but developed knee pain. On the advice of local coach Pramod Yadav, he later shifted to race walking which does not put too much pressure on his knees.
Baboo might have been born to semi-illiterate parents but he used social media to his advantage.
“I opened a facebook account and joined several FB groups relating to fitness and long distance running to find out who can help me in my endeavour.” In 2017, when he was around 17 years old, Baboo left for Varanasi where there is a proper athletics stadium and there he got in touch with coach Chandrabahan Yadav.
He took a rented house at Rs 1500 a month. His parents sent him a small amount of money and so he worked part-time as a waiter for one month.
“I got Rs 3000 per month for working as a waiter but they made me work till midnight and even at 1am. I had to get up at 4am for training at the stadium. It was very difficult for me. People did not respect me and misbehaved with me. So I left Varanasi and returned home.” In 2019, Baboo was able to convince a coach at Bhopal SAI Centre to take him under his wings. He then competed in the 50km event at the National Race Walk Championships in February 2020, just before the nation-wide COVID-19 lockdown, and finished fourth.
During the lockdown, the Bhopal SAI Centre was shut and Baboo returned home. His parents were finding it difficult to get work to survive.
“Luckily, we got work under the MGNREGA scheme and I helped my father in digging pits in road construction work. One person would get Rs 300 to 400 per day depending on the amount of work,” he said.
After working for one and a half months under the MGNREGA scheme, Baboo became restless, and he left for Bhopal again.
In February 2021, he won a 50km race walk silver medal in the National Race Walk Championships and that paved the way for his entry into the Army Sports Institute in Pune with the help of coach Basant Rana.
After the World Athletics decided to remove the 50km event from its programme, Baboo shifted to 35km event and won gold in the National Open Championships in September 2021, and a few months later, he was called to the national camp in Bengaluru.
After winning gold in 35km at the National Games last year with national record time, Baboo got a job in the Army, and he is a havildar now.
“My age at that time was 11 months more than that in the eligibility criteria but I got exemption after winning the National Games gold. I am currently under probation till next month and I am getting around Rs 10000, which is the basic pay.
“After this, I will get full salary and I will be able to look after my parents properly.” Rambabu, resident of Bhairava Gandhi of Bahuara Gram Panchayat of Sonbhadra district, belongs to a very poor family.
His mother Meena Devi told PTI that her son had the desire to achieve something since childhood.
“There is an atmosphere of happiness in the entire village and district due to his success in the Asian Games. However, Rambabu has struggled a lot to reach here,” she said.
“He needed better training to advance in his career but it was very difficult for the family to afford an academy. Despite all the difficulties, Rambabu’s father Chhotalal decided to enroll him in the academy and bore the expenses by working as a labourer.” To fulfill her son’s dream, Devi herself has sold khoya (milk mawa) in the nearby Madhupur market, she said.
“We do not have any agricultural land, so my husband works as an agricultural labourer,” she added.
His two elder sisters Pooja and Kiran are married while younger sister Suman is a first year engineering student in Prayagraj. Baboo said that he will shift to 20km race walk from next season as the mixed team event is unpredictable because the combined timing of male and female competitors of a country is taken into consideration for medal.
“You never know, my colleague (woman race walker) may not be able to do well on a particular day, she may be sick but still taking part or she may be disqualified during the competition. All these are not in my hands.
“So, I am shifting to a 20km event from next year.”
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