Real active at 80-plus
Thangappanadar Dharmaraj Rajendran is 82 years young. And he is clearly somebody who is not discouraged by age. His fame as ‘Marathoner TDR’ is widespread in the region. A veteran of 60 marathons, father of three girls and grandfather of six children, he has logged thousands of hours at several events in the last seven years.
Four years ago at seventy-seven, he breasted the tape at the Wipro Full Marathon in Chennai in 06:06:67 and has been participating continuously for the last four years bettering his own record. “My goal is to finish. The time doesn’t matter. I go at my own pace in these endurance events and still win because other competitors take off in a hurry and burn out after a few laps,” says Rajendran, who in 2015 had returned as the world’s 13th fastest man in 75 to 80 age category from the World Masters Athletic Championship in Lyon, France.
His first ever full marathon was, however, in Viruddhunagar, in February 2010. “I not only completed 42.2 km but even went eight km on wrong route and returned to finish in 6:30:00. But my toe nails came off after this run and I gave up my shoes forever,” he says. But what he always sports with pride is the vibhuti-smeared forehead.
Look at him and you feel he is built like a heron – 58.5 kg on a five-foot-five frame – and is crazily agile and efficient. When we call on him for a photo shoot in his home town Sivakasi, he races up the 60-odd stairs in one go in his three-storey house and effortlessly does a balancing act on the terrace railing. Later sitting in his cramped office room filled with trophies and medals, mementoes and souvenirs, certificates and newspaper clippings neatly laminated and filed, he tells us he is in the habit of taking churning laps of the streets at the crack of dawn daily around the Siva Temple.“I run 10 km daily and when it rains I go up and down the staircase in my house 60 times,”’ he says.
His diet is the next obvious question. “I always keep myself hydrated and eat mostly fruits with their skin and seeds and a variety of greens,” he says. So, is this the secret of his robust energy, stamina and longevity? He agrees that exercising and watching what you eat definitely keeps you in good health and high levels of fitness. “But,” he quips, “I did not take to running marathons to remain fit.”
A desire to travel overseas always pushed Rajendran into doing things that surprised his family. When he was ready enough to look after his father’s match factory, he chose to go to Chennai and sit at the Port watching the various goods being loaded on the ships. In the 1960s, Rajendran started with limestone business but soon struck gold with gloriosa superba seeds used extensively for medicinal purposes. He began with exporting only the tuberous corms in early 70s and later pioneered the seeds cultivation. “From 1984 the seeds were in high demand,” he says recalling challenging incidents he overcame while trading the highly profitable plant to Italy and Germany. Incidentally Rajendran is also known for discovering the life saving Asiatic Taxus in the forests of Meghalaya which helped the pharmacology world to get ahead with the fight against cancer. “It was named Taxus Rajendran in Italy,” smiles the soft-spoken managing director of Herbs and Natural Products India Ltd.
The industrialist in him took a back seat seven years ago but the urge to travel and connect with people did not. While watching television one evening in 2010, he heard the anchor of a show inviting people to participate in the upcoming Independence Day Masters Open Athletics Meet in Chennai. “I thought late is better than never and enrolled for the 5 km run and walk,” he says.
The excitement of competing at the age of 74 saw Rajendran take on 67 contestants, of whom 64 were young students and mostly youths. He clocked 30 and 40 minutes in race and walk respectively and returned home with two gold medals. Like the quality of determined perseverance to do overseas business he honed in his youth now found a new meaning while running marathons in old age.
Rajendran with 12 full marathons behind him and scores of mini-marathons and countless other races at local, State, national, Asian and international events proves that peaking in one’s 70s or 80s is neither impossible nor rarity. “I am steady in my approach and I run for fun because it is better not to know the bounds of what you can achieve,” he says, now a familiar face at most events all over. He returned with gold and bronze medals from Malaysia in 2014. Last year he struck a rich haul with five golds and one silver in Asian Masters Athletics Meet in Singapore. And he is now warming up for the same Championship in Jiangsu, China next month.
Rajendran is surely not ready to call it quits. “I feel it and everybody knows I am in the best shape of my life,” he says.
“I feel good after a long run. You have to take care of your body. What you eat means a lot.”