The Elite Athlete’s Academy helped poor youth get defense jobs before it closed due to pandemic curbs
His dream of winning an Olympic gold medal for India was shattered by a whim of fate. The athlete G. Hari Prasad from Madanapalle later made it his life’s work to train talented young people to become top athletes and to help them join the Indian army.
However, his plans have encountered an obstacle as the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled all activities and there is no hope of a resuscitation in the near future as the alleged third wave looms large. But his mind remains steadfast and he is ready to fight to the end.
Mr. Prasad ranked first in both 5,000 and 10,000 meters (under 20) at the All India Inter-University Athletics meeting four years in a row (2006-10). He also emerged victorious from the Andhra Pradesh State Athletics Association, which meets five times over the same period. Having finished fourth in national events once, Mr. Prasad was confident that he would one day land an Olympic medal.
In 2010, however, fate dealt him a cruel blow. On a cross-country ski run near Lake Kolleru, he suffered a severe torn ligament in one leg, which put him out of action for several years. After completing his BPEd in 2012, he had to give up job hunting and return home to take care of his sick mother. Poverty and coercion made the former athlete a servant for five years.
“I’m not allowed to compete for the national team or the Olympic Games. But I can train a lot of talented youngsters not only for sporting encounters, but also for India’s defense forces. This goal can never get out of my head and will haunt me to the grave, ”says Prasad.
In 2018 he founded the Hari Defense Academy in Madanapalle with a group of eight young people from poor families in the Rayalaseema region. Six of them went into the army. The success brought 18 enrollments in 2019 and all of them secured jobs – 16 in the army and two in the air force. In September 2019, Mr. Hari saw an increase in aspirants and enrollments rose to 60.
However, he suffered a blow in February 2020 when defense selections were postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and abandoned his academy’s classrooms, playgrounds and hilly terrain in and around Madanapalle.
Within two years, Mr. Prasad had to raise ₹ 15 lakh in funds to set up and maintain the academy. “Most of the students who come here come from poor families. Although I charged them 4,000 yen a month for food, lodging, indoor and outdoor training, and staff salaries, many of them couldn’t afford it. But I never made them pay. Exercise also requires nutritious food and I had to borrow money from friends and relatives to cover the shortage. But COVID-19 has displaced all of my students, ”complains Mr Prasad.
For the past year and a half, Mr. Prasad has continued to be in need to meet the goals. “But my determination to train talented young people is never watered down. I’m prepared for tons of hungry nights. There will definitely be good times, ”says the spirited coach.