T .V. Govindaraju (49) spent the last 36 years chasing a big dream: to represent India at Olympics. His love for running is more than a passion. He’s won 83 medals—15 gold, 13 silver and 55 bronze—in marathons, 400-metre and 800-metre races and 4X400-metre relay races.

While all of Govindaraju’s achievements are awe-inspiring, what is astonishing is that he has come this far while balancing a full-time job for the past 22 years. Govindaraju is a shipping executive in Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages’ (HCCB) Bidadi factory in Karnataka. He has persevered for years, finally representing India at the Open Masters Athletics in Indonesia last year. He now has his sights set on the Asia Masters Athletics Championship 2019 to be held in Malaysia in December.

The starting line

“It was my mother who spotted my love for running while I was in 7th grade, and she helped me nurture my passion. My father wanted me to be a farmer but destiny had other plans," he says. He describes 2012 as a landmark year. “I won the state-level gold in the Men’s 35+ category at the Karnataka State Masters Athletic Championships. It was one of the best moments." Winning gold brought him honour and recognition in the local press, he fondly remembers.

Since then, Govindaraju has been focusing on his goal of winning an Olympic Gold sometime. “I hope to break my own record of 800 metres in under 2.07 minutes," he says, of his personal best back from 2016.

Cheerleaders at the workplace

Govindaraju finished his education and found a supportive employer in HCCB, one of the main reasons he has been able to don dual hats without giving either up. “The company is my extended family. They have always stood by me," he says.

His colleagues say they’re proud of him and have no trouble accommodating his competitions. “We try to enable him with the necessary support through flexible shift timings and leave of absence as and when required to prepare for tournaments," says Bheemannappa Manthale, Bidadi factory manager. “Whenever he comes back from a tournament, he is always energised and shows higher enthusiasm and zeal towards his work.

Govindaraju’s job also lends itself to his fitness. He walks through the loading bay, within the factory and controls traffic movement. The mobility complements his exercise routine. There is never a time he isn’t thinking about his fitness and running goals.

Years of support from the organisation has helped Govindaraju focus on his dreams. “I admit that the thought of taking up running as a full-time activity has crossed my mind," he says, about pursuing his passion one hundred per cent, “But I do not want to leave the HCCB family." If he gets the chance to follow it exclusively, he might just think about it.

Real-life relay

Mathale says that Govindaraju’s colleagues at the factory all call him ‘Captain’ or ‘Runner’. His positivity towards all situations, his love for working and his fitness levels–both mentally and physically–inspire those associated with him.

Govindaraju strongly believes in giving back to the sporting community. For the past three years, he has been training students across age groups at the taluk, state and district level. “I spend Sundays or any other holidays with these children. I want them to be successful athletes and make the country proud by bagging an Olympic medal," he says.

Training runners is no easy feat; he works on their stamina and strength-building, running at different speeds, energy conservation techniques, physical fitness, taking care of the body, wearing the right running gear, among other things. “The most important aspect is to keep them focused and motivated," he says.

Govindaraju never compromises on his own exercise routine. His shifts at the factory can be unpredictable, but he fits in a workout before work, come what may. He admits that none of this would have been possible without the support of his wife and two children, aged 20 and 15.

So, do his children want to follow in their father’s footsteps? “I want my kids to pursue whatever they are fond of. I will support them even if they want to become athletes," he proudly says.

Living by example

A mere glimpse at Govindaraju’s life is enough to know that being a sporting champion is no easy feat. How does he successfully juggle work and such rigorous play? “It is important to have a healthy life to achieve any sporting dream. One should never be under the impression that their professional life would be a hurdle to their passion," he says. “I am an example of the same and I try to prove it every day."

Workplace Champions looks at how employees balance sporting passions and their day jobs.

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