The name Allyson Felix may not elicit the same enthusiasm or recognition as a pan masala promoting court jester in Ranveer Singh or any of the many deceitful politicians in our country, but her’s is a story worth reflecting upon. Her story along with the many other stories from the world of sports, philanthropy and social work should inspire people across all ages. They should be the role models. “Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating” said John Wooden, perhaps one of the most influential and legendary coaches in history. Yet we are living in a society where social media influences a lot of our behavior. All you need to be a social media superstar is to dance for ten seconds or show off your artificially induced assets for a little less than ten seconds. And pronto, you have a million and more followers. So banal is each reel or post, yet the majority get seduced by it. It is time we reset our role models and move away from the narcissistic film stars and politicians to humans that offer us a simple mind with a large heart.
Allyson Felix is a 36-year old American track and field athlete who has won 21 gold medals across the Olympics and world events. She is the most decorated athlete in World Athletics Championship history and continues to add to her tally of medals after becoming a mother in 2018. Her 200m timing of 21.69 at the 2012 US Olympic trials is the 8th best 200m timing in history. Even though she comes from a country which is rapidly ceasing to be a role model with its parochial laws and self proclaimed hegemony, Felix is an advocate for women in sports and black maternal health. She is credited with pushing brands such as Nike to alter their salary policy in favour of pregnant athletes. She has launched her own footwear brand Saysh. And she will be seen at the upcoming World Championship in Eugene, Oregon.
Along with Jamaican’s Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, another athlete with a similarly inspiring story of motherhood and triumph on the tracks and the current world champion Elaine Thompson Herah, these women are global role models to aspiring athletes. This list can be further extended by adding our own Mary Kom, Mithali Raj, Serena Williams and Megan Rapinoe.
In India, our sports coaching fraternity has thrown up many role models, who have quietly and unassumingly gone about their way churning out champions. Pullela Gopichand, Rahul Dravid, Abhinav Bindra, Suma Shirur, Gagan Narang, Vijay Amritraj, P.T Usha and Prakash Padukone are some names that come to my mind. You will not find them promoting themselves or their achievements on social media. In fact you may not find some of them on social media at all. You will only hear about them when you come across one of their athletes triumphing on the global stage. They believe in their work and not what others perceive. They are sincere and dedicated to their task having been champions in their own field. These are the elite coaching role models, but there are so many other unknown coaches who are working selflessly to get India the recognition as a sporting powerhouse. Be it a Tarun Sardesai in golf, or a Ramesh Nagapuri in athletics or a Santhosh Nagarajachari in shooting. They have given up their own comfort and career to focus on nurturing not just better athletes but better humans. They have stayed away from the public limelight and managed themselves efficiently in spite of the obstacles that politicians create due their interference in sports; a practice that needs to be ended sooner than later.
A reset in how we define our idols or role models is the need of the hour. Or else we will be stuck in the low benchmark created by our filmstars, social media influencers and politicians. “Being a role model is equal parts being who you actually are and what people hope you will be.” Meryl Streep.