By MK Ashoka
Bangalore, July 19 (IANS) An institution in the small town of Moodbidri in Mangaluru district of Karnataka has earned the distinction of sending seven sportspersons to the Olympic Games between 1996 Atlanta and 2020 Tokyo.
Two sportspersons, Shubha Venkateshan and Dhanalakshmi Shekar, from Alva’s Education Foundation in Moodbidri are part of India’s athletics contingent to Tokyo and will compete in the 4x400m mixed relay event.
The foundation, spread across 200 acres and having three campuses, has so far adopted 5,000 sportspersons from all over the country.
Among the notable sportspersons from the institution who have gone on to represent the country at the Olympics include, Satheesha Rai (1996, Atlanta) and MR Poovamma (2008 Beijing & 2016 Rio).
Weightlifter Rai was the first sportsperson from the institution to make it to the Olympics, finishing 16th. Rai then went on to win gold and two silver medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and was later honoured with the Arjuna Award. He is currently working with the Union Bank as general manager.
India’s ace sprinter MR Poovamma got selected for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in 400m mixed relay. She was also selected for the 2016 Olympics in the same event. Poovamma is an Arjuna awardee and has won the Asian Championships title. She missed the Tokyo Olympics due to an injury.
Tamil Nadu-born Dharun and Mohan Kumar participated in 400m hurdles and 400m relay event respectively in 2016 Rio. Dharun, a silver medallist at the Asian Games, still holds the All India University record. Mohan Kumar has won three international championships.
Commonwealth Games champion Ashwini Akkunji took part in 2016 Rio in 4×400 hurdles.
Presently, Dhanalakshmi Shekar and Shubha Venkateshan, both from Tamil Nadu, are part of the Tokyo Olympics athletics contingent.
The founder of the institution, Dr. Mohan Alva, a sportsperson himself, dreamt of building a sports facility to train sportspersons.
In 1984, he started the Ekalavya Sports Club, which adopted and trained sportspersons. In 1994, he started the education institutions and today, the foundation offers education from primary schooling to post graduate and professional courses.
Every year the institution adopts 600-700 sportspersons from across the country to train for international championships. The coaching, education, hostel, food facilities are offered free to these children.
“It was just a crazy feeling in me to support sports that led me to establish a sports foundation. Since it was very difficult to pay the fees of adopted sportspersons, we opened our own educational institutions,” Dr Mohan Alva told IANS.
As there were no running tracks on the campus then, the athletes had to be taken to neighboring Udupi and Mangaluru cities for practice. He still remembers how he used to transport mattresses in a tempo vehicle for the training of a high jumper.
“My wife would chide me for taking a bucket full of apples, oranges to the foundation and bringing nothing home. However, she supported the venture,” Dr Alva explains.
The training is given to students in about 25 disciplines. The selections are made at national-level sport events and sportspersons are offered lodging and boarding.
“When I declared that Olympians will emerge from the foundation, some applauded and some laughed it away. Now 20,000 students study in the foundation and 18,000 stay in residential hostel facilities,” Dr Alva said.
Shubha Venkateshan and Dhanalakshmi, both adopted by the foundation, are all praise for the institution. “We are so happy to join Alva’s. The chairman likes sports and supports sportspersons. All our needs are taken care of. The foundation is our second home,” they told IANS.
The campus gives the feeling of a mini-India as sportspersons are selected from all across the country, with wrestlers coming from north Karnataka, weightlifters from Northeast, sprinters from Kerala and long-distance runners from Saurashtra in Maharashtra. There are several sportspersons from Punjab and Haryana as well.
“It is all about commitment. Sports and academics are given equal weightage here. Some wards from nomadic communities are also selected and trained here for their special physical features. The foundation spends Rs 40 lakh on food bills alone,” Vivek Alva, who is closely associated with the foundation, explains.
This is the institute which has taken sports curriculum to a different level, he underlines.
By MK Ashoka