Taxi driver re­flects on Olympic hey­day

The Myanmar Times - - Olympics -

FOR­MER Olympian Muham­mad Ashiq looks daily at the tro­phies he won in a glit­ter­ing cy­cling ca­reer for Pak­istan decades ago. “Per­haps most peo­ple think that I have died,” he says.

“I just re­call that I have shaken hands with ... for­mer Pak­istani prime min­is­ters, pres­i­dents, chief ex­ec­u­tives,” the 81-year-old tells AFP tear­fully.

“Why and how they all for­got me, I can­not be­lieve.”

Ashiq, who com­peted for Pak­istan at the 1960 and the 1964 Olympics, now scrapes by as a rick­shaw driver in the teem­ing eastern city of La­hore.

He be­gan his sport­ing ca­reer as a boxer, switch­ing to cy­cling in the 1950s when his wife complained about his in­juries.

He com­peted in Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964 and though he won no medals, he was hailed as a na­tional hero for Pak­istan.

“I was so happy ... I con­sid­ered myself lucky to rep­re­sent Pak­istan in the Olympics,” he says.

But when his cy­cling ca­reer ended, so did his luck.

He took a PR job but left it for health reasons in 1977. He briefly drove a taxi and a van then bounced around sev­eral other small busi­ness ideas, but for the last six years has been re­duced to driv­ing a rick­shaw, fer­ry­ing low­in­come pas­sen­gers around La­hore’s bustling, choked streets.

He lives in a 450-square-foot house on which he owes more than 1 mil­lion ru­pees (US$9,500) – a near-in­sur­mount­able amount, given his rick­shaw salary of roughly 400 ru­pees per day.

His wife has passed away, and his four chil­dren no longer live with him, he says, adding he does not want to be de­pen­dent on them.

He used to hang his medals in his rick­shaw, but not any more.

In­stead, the canopy is in­scribed with a twist on the fa­mous quote by for­mer US Pres­i­dent Calvin Coolidge: “Na­tions and states who for­get their he­roes can never be pros­per­ous.”

When pas­sen­gers ask him about the mes­sage, he says he tells them his story – us­ing it as a cau­tion­ary tale for the poor in par­tic­u­lar, whom he warns never to take part in sports.

His wife and four chil­dren begged him over the years to stop think­ing about his fall in life, he said.

“Once my wife started weep­ing. I asked her why ... She said she was just wor­ried about my health.

“She told me to be happy all the time and for­get those who for­got us. I said OK, and she be­came happy for a while. “And af­ter some pe­riod, she died.” That was two years ago. Now, he says, his hands shak­ing, he too prays for death.

“I pray ... to meet my beloved wife in heaven. I think it is bet­ter to avoid this pa­thetic sit­u­a­tion I have en­dured,” he says. –

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