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A Delhi security guard discovered track and field in his 40s. He then ran the Boston Marathon

An employee of the US embassy for 23 years, Kumar has participated in over 10 marathons.

WrittenBy:Sumedha Mittal
Date:
     
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Vijay Kumar, 46, never in his “wildest dreams” thought he would travel to the United States to participate in the Boston Marathon, one of the most prominent marathon events in the world. 

“I lived my entire life in that marathon,” said Kumar, who works as a security guard at the US embassy in Delhi. “Everyday I used to see people visiting the embassy for their visa interviews. I never thought I could be one of them. I am the first person from a 500-strong security team to be able to achieve this.”

Over the past eight years, Kumar has participated in over 10 marathons – including ones in New Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh and Ladakh. He has bagged at least 30 medals, most of which reside in a plastic bag.

He carefully removed the yellow-blue Boston Marathon medal from the bag. “There is no space in the room to hang my other medals,” he joked.

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Kumar, a native of Kangra district in Himachal, has worked as a security guard at Delhi’s US embassy for over 23 years. Like many other migrants in the capital, he lives in Sagarpur in southwest Delhi. His family, including his wife, son and daughter, remain at their village in the hills. 

Kumar had once aspired to join the Indian Army, but after three failed attempts in the 1990s, he resigned to take up private jobs and subsequently moved to Delhi. In May 2001, he landed a job with G4S, a UK-headquartered security services provider, and has since been working at the US embassy on contractual basis. 

He told Newslaundry, he had always been “impressed by the fitness of goras (foreigners)”. But he began participating in track and field events in 2016 after the officers at the embassy created a WhatsApp group for a fitness session post working hours.

“I feel the foreigners allocate more time to stay fit as compared to Indians. Another habit of theirs that impressed me was how disciplined they are. The best part is that they have the same rules for everyone,” said Kumar, adding that diplomats and officers never treated him “the way security guards are otherwise treated in India”. 

He credits the “culture at the embassy” for shaping him as a professional and motivating him to stay fit. “Whenever I would put on a few extra kilos, the next day I would run to the nearby park to shed them”

He added: “The diplomats included us in their group and encouraged us to join the fitness session with them. They never discriminated that security guards should not be a part of the fitness session with them.”

From fitness sessions to marathons, and new friendships  

Recalling his first competitive track experience, the security guard said he had participated in a 10-km run at Chanakyapuri’s Nehru Park after regularly attending the fitness sessions for a year, and bagged the fourth position. “It made me think that I had potential to do more.” 

However,  Kumar did not know how to further his track and field journey. But he discovered the world of marathons when he met Rahul Nandi, the partner of one of the diplomats. 

Nandi is a marathon runner himself, and has participated in over 35 so far. According to Kumar, Nandi educated him about the events and encouraged him to participate.  

So, in 2018, Kumar ran his first marathon – the 42-km New Delhi marathon. He could not finish it but it didn’t matter. “Because I just loved running the marathon, to an extent that I became crazy about them,” said Kumar.  

He said that Nandi consistently pushed him to do more. “We had become friends by then over our love for running. He knew about my background and that I cannot afford to buy good sports shoes. So, he bought me my first running shoes, costing over Rs 20,000.”

Year after year, Kumar has broken his own records at marathons. In 2022, he brought down his completing time of the 42-km New Delhi marathon to 3 hours from 3 hours 50 minutes in 2018.

It was in 2019 that Kumar first learned about the Boston Marathon, and “how it is the Mecca for marathon runners across the world”.  Running the Boston Marathon became his ultimate ambition. 

To qualify, he trained every day, averaging 16-18 km per day. It took him four years but he finally qualified for the Boston Marathon’s 127th edition this year in the above-45 category. 

He was one of 22,000 athletes from across the world to qualify for the event. 

“It was not an easy dream to fulfill with my regular 10-hour job as a security guard,” he said. Talking about the work that went into keeping his spirits up, Kumar said he wakes up at 4 am to cook and do household chores. An hour later, he hits the ground to train. When he has a night shift, he runs at a park near the embassy before returning home. 

“You get tired and lazy. But you have to push yourself. The minute I wear my running shoes, I get motivated.” He also lost six kg to increase his stamina and speed, and took special care of his diet. 

A Lutyens funding campaign 

Over the years, Kumar has also become an integral member of the Delhi Lutyens Running Group – which sees the participation of high-profile running enthusiasts,  from US marines to diplomats and officials of various high commissions. 

Kumar told Newslaundry that he has been “wholeheartedly made a part of the group”, and is often invited to the other members’ parties and functions. 

“Initially, I used to feel awkward,” he said, remembering how he sat apart from everyone else during a Thanksgiving dinner. “But they came to me and insisted that I eat with them.” 

The members of the Delhi Lutyens running group ran a donation drive to fund Kumar’s trip to Boston for the marathon and an extended two-week tour across several cities in the US – which cost a total of Rs 4 lakh. 

Kumar said: “I had a lot of support from them. But my anxiety did not die down with the funding. Because what if my visa does not get approved after purchasing flight tickets and booking hotels?”

However, Kumar’s visa was cleared within days on an emergency basis. “Everyone at the embassy was so happy, they said: ‘Vijay ka visa lagg gaya’. It was my first international trip, and that too directly to America.” 

Besides Boston, Kumar visited Ohio, Maryland, New York and Washington, DC, . “I can never forget the entire trip and running the marathon. It was like heaven to me. There was no pollution. But I was not fully prepared for the climate there. Hopefully, next year I will be. I aspire to finish it within three hours.”

Kumar said that “most importantly,” his passion for running has given him another identity – that of an athlete. 

“Now, people look at me with a lot of respect, especially Indians, many of whom do not respect the working class. Whenever I visit my village in Himachal, everyone says he is the one who has a US visa. Sometimes, it gets embarrassing, but it also makes me proud.”

Sunny Side Up is a new section that attempts to chronicle stories of success and triumph, against all odds. 

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