Athletics: Neither age nor retirement has slowed 92-year-old Asia Masters champion

V. Sriramulu taking part in the men's 65 and above 5,000m Race Walk on the opening day of the 19th Masters Athletics Championships.
V. Sriramulu taking part in the men's 65 and above 5,000m Race Walk on the opening day of the 19th Masters Athletics Championships.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - In a field of more than 2,000 from 25 contingents at the Asia Masters Athletics Championships, India's V. Sriramulu stands out in a league of his own.

But not for physical presence, nor for being vocal. Perhaps not even for seniority, even though the retired naval commander, who turns 93 in July, is the oldest athlete at the five-day meet, which ends tomorrow.

The 1.62m, soft-spoken race-walker - the winner and only athlete in the 5km event (90 and above) on Wednesday - makes his mark by the manner in which he lives.

"Better to live like a lion for a day, than a lamb for 1,000 days," he told The Straits Times yesterday. "Be fit. If you want to live, that's the only way to enjoy life."

Sriramulu, who lives in Visakhapatnam - or Vizag as the south-eastern Indian coastal city is affectionately known - with his 84-year-old wife, walks the talk.

Over the 35-odd years he served in the navy, he spent even his free time out at sea, sailing, competing in - and winning - numerous national and international regattas.

Neither age nor life as a retiree slowed him. It only took him to greater heights - literally.

In 2002, at the age of 79, he scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak (5,895m above sea level), with his son.

Two years later, he put on trekking boots and took off for Everest Base Camp. He returned to the Himalayas again in 2006, this time pitching a tent for an overnight stay on the Pindari Glacier, "just for the fun of it".

He said: "I've seen plenty of sea. After retiring, I wanted to see something on land, in the hills."

Racewalking took him across the globe, from the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships in Sacramento to the Lyon edition last year. He competed in the 5km, 10km and 20km at both meets.

He topped his event in California, clocking 2hr 50min 6sec over 20km. Last year, he claimed the 10km title as his age category's only competitor, finishing in 1:36:06.

This year's Perth meet is on the cards for Sriramulu, who alternates his training between weightlifting and walking. He could not say specifically how far he walks each time, but had no qualms trying - and failing - to coax this reporter to join him on a 30km walk.

While no longer a strict vegetarian, he is no-nonsense about keeping to a simple diet. A "light" breakfast is followed by a "lighter" lunch, then a glass of milk or juice before 6pm. There is no dinner, as has been the case for the last 50 years.

His rationale for this lifestyle is clear.

Said the grandfather of four, the youngest of whom is 32: "I don't want to be dependent on my family, society or country. I want to be independent. I must be physically fit to do that.

"I'm just a military man who believes in doing good. I want to set an example, that's all. I want youngsters to look at me and think, 'If at 93 he is so active, why not me?'

"I fully believe that if you're living, then you must live fit. Otherwise, you have no right."