Saturday, October 1, 2016

Walker to hawker

By Tony Mariadass
Pictures by: Mohd Firdaus Abdul Latif

If you were a resident of the Jalan Duta-Segambut areas in Kuala Lumpur from mid-1970s through to the early 1990s, and if you happened to be up and about rather early, chances are you would have encountered a lone determined figure, wreaked in perspiration,walking briskly by the side of the road heading towards Jalan Duta.
The early morning ritual of national walker V. Subramaniam would have begun at around 4.30am from his home in Batu Caves to Jalan Duta where the Examination Syndicate was located in the days when the area was a secluded forested stretch where even a waterfall existed punctuated a few government buildings.
The monotonous regularity of ritual – absent only when it rained torrents which was seldom – the obvious determination of its performer, and the harvest of medals it brought him, established Subramaniam as the national athlete with a peerless work ethic.
Which is why these days you would be surprised to see the man taking your order for Western food and serving you at a food court in Taman Mewah in Ampang.

Subra preparing before he opens his stall
Sadly,  the 67-year-old for international walker, has fallen into bad times after he lost his job as national walks coach of eleven years with the National Sports Council last August.
The Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) took a bold move to remove old and experienced coaches in their revamp of the coaching set up in preparation for the 2017 Kuala Lumpur Sea Games.
Subramaniam tried to get a job as a coach with States AAs like Federal Territory and Terengganu, but in vain.
Although KLFTAA promised to use him for walking clinics, it is still in the planning stages.
“I had to make ends meet because there was little I could do with my RM320 pension I get from my eleven years’ service with Telekoms although I worked there for 30 years as they were privatised after that,” said Subra, as he was more popularly known, when met at his stall at the food court.

Subra at his stall at the food court in Taman Mewah, Ampang
“Although my children are all grown up and do support me a little, but I have eight grandchildren and want to be independent to be able to buy a few things for them and also for my daily expenditure,” added Subra whose wife Krishnaveny (64) who had passed away last November.
Sadly, life has been a struggle for Subra all his life.
He had won his first walking race in 1969 in a 10km race and went on to finish second in two others.
But working with a private company, he was not giving time-off for training or competition and had to put his ambition to be a national athlete on hold.
It was only ten years later at the ripe age of 26, when he found employment with Telekoms Malaysia in 1975, with whom he retired after 30 years that his athletics career finally took off.
With support from his employers, Subra saw his 14 years walking career take off with wins in almost all walking tournaments like the Malay Mail Big Walk, State meets and a walking circuit organised by a private company, Wings, before competing in his first international competition – in the 1977 Sea Games in Kuala Lumpur where he won the 10km gold medal and 20km silver medal.
He went to win a total six gold medals and five silvers in five Sea Games, qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics Games, but had to skip it because of the boycott by Malaysia, in the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games won the silver medal and 1982 Games finishing fourth and won two bronze medals from the Asian Track and Field in 1979 and 1981. He was named Selangor Sportsman for two consecutive years – 1978 and 1979 – and was also named the National Sportsman of the Year in 1978.

Happier times when Subra (second from left) was named Sportsman of The Year in 1978 with Sportswoman of The Year Slyvia Ng and then - Malaysian Amateur Athletics Union president the late Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie (left), and then Badminton Association of Malaysia president, the late Tan Sri Khir Johari.
Datuk Seri Najib (right), who was then Culture, Youth and Sports Minister, and other supporters cheer Subramaniam during the 20km walk at the 1989 KL SEA Games. Subramaniam went to win the race.
But every step of his walk he had to make sacrifices and anyone else in his shoes would have long ago given up.
But not the father of three boys - late Saravanan, Rajinikanth (41) and Sundhar (38) and two girls Uma Sunthary (41) and Shanti (39).
Even the death of his oldest 21-year-old son Saravanan in 1992 after a motorcycle accident, did not see Subra hang up his walking shoes.
Subra said that it was former walker B.Thirukumar, who told him about the stall available in the Ampang area and knew a lady who cooked western food who was looking for an opportunity to do business.
“I managed to find this stall and got the lady (Siti Zubaidi) who had worked with a Chinese stall owner for nearly ten years assisting in preparing western food to team up with me,” said Subra who has been operating the stall since last October.

He initially was operating the stall from morning to night and paid a rent of RM800 a month and business was good for starters.
“But off late, it has been bad and since last month I decided to operate only in the evenings from 4pm to 10pm and pay a reduced rent of RM540.”
Subra had to come up with a start-up capital of RM7,000 and spends anything between RM50 to RM200 a day to buy meat and grocery for his business.
“These days I make about RM1,200 a month after deducting expenses and share it 50-50 with Siti.

“It is not much, but I rather being doing something instead of just sitting at home,” said Subra who still continues to walk daily for at least an hour.
Subra who was a familiar figure at the Lake Gardens training walkers, has not been training anyone since January.
“I am looking forward to getting back to coaching and will be going to the National championships this weekend at the University Malaya to approach a few States including Selangor. Hopefully, I will land a job soon as I am yearning to get back to coaching especially in developing a few walkers to become top notch athletes.”
Indeed a sad state of affairs for such a decorated athlete who has brought so many honours to the country including winning the Sportsman Award of the Year besides having trained so many national walkers to glory.
Among the walkers whom he had nurtured include Annastasia Karen Raj, Mohd Shahrulhaizy Abdul Rahman, Narinder Singh, Loo Choon Sieng, and 2015 Sea Games bronze medallist Khairul Harith Harun to name a few.
Apparently, the fighter in Subra will not yield in the face of life’s vicissitudes.

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