He sat by the tracks and felt the line come to life. The rail road quivered, excitedly. And in his little toes, he felt the same excitement as the distant rumble rolled closer. He put down the diary in which he was giving words to his angry tears and got to his feet. The ballast poked and pricked at his bare feet but he couldn’t feel any of it.
The green engine loomed into view, and charged towards the boy like a ravenous monster gobbling up the horizon. The boy, turned and looked at the train, and from the fire in his eyes, you could tell he had been waiting… for this day, and for this train.
The train too seemed to know its nemesis. As it came closer, it picked up speed, as if sure of victory. The boy though was tired… tired of being picked on… picked on for being too scared, too fat, too slow, too dull and for being too black. He swore it would all end today.
The train drew near and was nearly upon the boy when those bare feet struggled against the ballast and propelled his tiny form forward. The diary, the stubby pencil and all that remained of his inhibitions were flung into the bluebells by the tracks as his arms carved the air like a buccaneer waving twin cutlasses. The train thundered past the boy as he turned his head from side to side in a desperate attempt to pick up speed. Blur against blur tore through the country side. The train was crashing towards the opposite horizon but the boy had an old oak standing in his path. As the oak drew near, the boy calves beat down on the dirt like pistons, his nostrils flared and eyes narrowed as he drew level with the train. For a frozen moment, engine and boy were locked in a frame, and then the boy inched ahead. The boy’s head turned as he pulled away and the fierce eyes took in the victory. In that moment, the boy returned to those eyes and as he sprinted past the oak, he broke into a wide grin. It was his fi rst victory but it wouldn’t be his last.
The train would lose many more times, and years later, still fuelled by the hurt and anger that burnt up a childhood, Herschel Walker would trample down defensive line-men like a rogue bull-elephant crashing through a brittle bamboo fence. As a shy and timid child in racially charged Georgia of the 70s, he was often beaten up by white kids. He had a speech impediment and was ridiculed for it by both students and teachers. He was too fat and slow to be any good at sports.
Then one day, he started racing the train. He raced and raced till his legs hurt and his lungs burned and the day he won, he refused to ever feel fear again. While watching television, he started doing pushups during commercials. And he ended up doing thousands of them. Pushups, sit-ups, dips, hundreds even a thousand, each day. And he ran. He even tied a rope to a tyre and pulled it as he ran. Young Herschel came from a poor family, and his school had no gymnasium to speak of. He was un-athletic and weak. But he let none of it get in his way. Within a couple of years, Herschel had become one of the quickest and strongest boys in school. No one picked on him now. But they did pick him for the football team. And college football in the United States, just so you know, is perhaps the pinnacle of amateur sports. The stands are always full and the best players are the biggest celebrities in the state.
Years later Herschel had said that he did not hold anything against the white boys who had heckled him, nor for the racist slurs or the constant taunting, for he said he realized that they are the ones who had problems. And they just took out their problems on weak and meek little Herschel. But it is they who fuelled the fire that forged Herschel Walker as we know him today. When he talks about them now, Herschel almost sounds grateful.
But those days in school, Herschel took out all that repressed anger in the football field. He was just too fast and too strong for the opposition. Colleges queued up for him and at the University of Georgia, Herschel found immortality. He became the biggest name in college football history and broke records and bones each year to win the Sugar Bowl for his college and the Heisman trophy for himself. And while playing football like a pro, the ‘stupid black kid’ had also studied hard and smart to become a valedictorian.
The freight trains he raced as a child had come back to haunt those who stood in his way, for Walker would charge through line ups like his old racing partner.
Though a Hall of Famer Herschel didn’t quite win the same honours in the senior NFL (National Football League). That wasn’t because of Herschel’s lack of trying though. He still continued to break records as a running back. But the teams he played for just weren’t good enough those years to make good on Walker’s enormous talents. In 1997, Herschel Walker retired from football. Some would say his career did not attain the stratospheric heights his talent and power truly deserved. But Herschel would tell you that he soared further and higher than he or anybody else ever thought that timid little kid would go.
But why am I wasting your time over a retired football player? And that too the kind of football we neither play nor watch. Well, that’s because a few days ago, while preparing for a local martial arts tournament, I went to YouTube looking for videos of Fedor Emelianenko (for the sacrilegious few who don’t know who that is, Fedor is the Muhammad Ali of mixed martial arts -MMA) for inspiration. And there I ran into videos of a 50 year old Walker who had now started competing in MMA, fighting fighters half his age and winning.
Look around you. That man is in mindboggling shape at 50, far ahead of where most of us have ever been or will be, and therein simmers the purpose of this tale.
Herschel Walker doesn’t go to a gym. He doesn’t eat any fancy foods. In fact he just eats once a day. While in college he was too busy working, playing, studying and training to think about eating, and so the habit stuck. He might have a fruit or some water through the day but at night, around 8 or 9 pm, he has soup and salads and a little something to eat, but not very much. And no red meat… in fact not much meat at all. Incidentally, even our ancient yogis recommend eating just once a day.
And as for exercise, Herschel still cranks out 1500 to 5000 push ups and sit ups every day. And some handstand push ups to wrap things up. Then he runs, sometimes with a tyre, like he used to all those years ago. And he wraps it all up in the wee hours of the morning.
Herschel doesn’t just look young. He fights like a young man too. Herschel’s cardiovascular fitness would rank higher than most athletes half his age, or for that matter, any age. That man seems to have the fountain of youth burbling inside him and all you just read seems to be all you need to do.
Strength, especially in the upper body, usually is the last to go. Which is why most of us who have gently crept past our mid 30s and are living out our lives doing little more than swiveling in a chair never find out how unfit we have become till we have to run a few paces in an emergency. Panting for breath, we resolve to renew that gym membership, but unfortunately that’s all we do – renew the membership, not our lives.
But Herschel’s life tells you that you have no excuses. That no matter how ugly the start today, there’s a gorgeous swan flapping its wings inside us, waiting to soar... All we need to do is build a little will and take off from our perch.
You could be old or fat, slow and dull, poor or rich and you could be busy as a bee. But if you can watch television, you can exercise. Just keep cranking out the numbers while the commercials are on, and don’t you dare cheat or take it easy.
And if you can afford just one meal a day, you can still be in Tshape and strong. Just don’t make space for excuses, because if tough little Herschel didn’t make any, neither should you. (And no, not having a train to run with doesn’t count. You have a watch.. so race the clock…)