Nisar Ahmad can still remember his first running shoes, battered and torn with holes in the soles. He eventually used the small amount of tips he received off well-wishers to finally buy his first real pair of sprinting trainers.
‘My family didn’t even have enough money to eat,’ he said. ‘There was no money for shoes. I had to save up every single rupee I received from well-wishers until I eventually had enough.’
Nisar, 15, grew up in a 10ft by 10ft room which also included a washroom, a makeshift kitchen and a bed, along side his parents and sister, next to a railway track in a slum in Delhi, northern India.
His father, Nanku, 48, works as a cycle rickshaw puller, and his mother Shafiqunissa, 46, works as maid in houses. His elder sister Ruksar, 22, would often tremble with fear every time a train passed and their little shack shook.
Nisar started running across the railway tracks as a child and was known amongst friends as a fast runner. One day in 2014, in an attempt to avoid school classes, he signed up for running classes when his sports teacher began looking for participants.
Nisar said: ‘I didn’t even know what I was meant to do. I had no idea what athletics meant or what 100 or 200 meter runs meant? But I won the first race leaving behind all other students with a huge margin. That’s when my teacher thought I had talent and could go far in athletics. He started training me and began preparing me for several competitions.’
As soon as Nisar started training full-time at the Government Boys Senior Secondary School, in North Delhi, there was no looking back. He’s already lost count of the amount of medals he’s won at state and national levels.
But now, Nisar has been invited to be one of 14 athletes chosen out of more than 2,500 across India to undergo a four-week training programme at the world’s most famous track and field club, Racers Track Club, in Kingston, Jamaica, home of athletics superstar Usain Bolt and his respected coach Glen Mills.
Athletes from across India were selected under the initiative taken by the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) and sports management company, Anglian Medal Hunt in 2016. The Kingston club reviewed the capabilities and potential of all applicants and agreed to host a four-week training programme for the best.
Nisar is still in shock and cannot believe he will be training at Usain Bolt’s club; who he admits he didn’t even know three years ago.
‘I started running randomly for a race and then it became my passion. I didn’t even know who Usain Bolt was back then. I grew up on a slum, my parents even struggled to feed us, I didn’t even have proper shoes or track pants to wear. Training at the world’s most famous track is nothing less than a dream. I feel blessed and I will make the most of this opportunity.’
Mother Shafiqunissa has still not digested her son’s success. ‘He could always run fast as a kid,’ she said. ‘But I did not understand that was a talent. I was worried initially how I would be able to support him in his passion. He used to run bare foot because he had no shoes and then he won several races wearing only his school shoes. But as the competitions got tougher, he needed better shoes. I asked for help from houses where I worked, I asked for loans. Some helped with track pants, some helped with old shoes or food for his diet. This is how we managed. I am so proud of him today.
‘I hope he is able to make a big name in athletics. There are many who only consider cricket as a sport in India because that is what has always been highlighted on television. I hope people take athletics seriously too and agree that it requires equal amount of strength, power and talent to be an athlete. My son is one of them and I am proud of him.’
Sister Ruksar, 22, is still unmarried, which is rare in traditional India, as her parents, who collectively earn merely Rs5,000 (£60GBP) a month, have not been able to afford her marriage.
Father Nanku said: ‘We cannot afford to spend our savings on our daughter’s marriage at the moment. Weddings are a costly affair and we need to be cautious of what and where we spend. Our focus is Nisar at the moment as he needs to build his future. He has a long road ahead of him and he needs our support.’
Nisar’s current record is 10.76 seconds in the 100m and 21.73 seconds in the 200m. But he intends to beat these times.
He already trains for nine hours a day with coach Sunita Rai, at Chhatrassal Stadium, in North Delhi, waking up at 5am and practicing for four hours before returning home at 9am to take rest for 30 minutes before going to school. He’s back at the stadium by 3pm, before arriving home at 8pm every night.
He said: ‘My poverty has inspired me to be tough. I want to get my parents out of the poor life they have been living in all their life. We’ve all lived a tough life. I want to win medals for India and make a big name in athletics. I want my country to know me and be proud of my parents for their struggle too.
‘Lots of people have helped me. I used to save money that I won from races to buy new shoes or saved the money people gave me as a tip while praising me whenever I did well in competitions. But still that was not enough. We have received no help from the government and I really wish talents like mine start getting consideration and acknowledgment by officials.’
Nisar, who never owned a passport until recently, has now left India and is in Jamaica until the end of the February and is hoping he’ll meet Usain Bolt during his stay.
He added: ‘I’d love to meet him. It would be amazing to learn some techniques from the man who is God in athletics. Learning just the basics from him would be a big achievement for. My dream is now to aim for the Commonwealth and the Olympics. Achieving something like this for myself, my family and my country would be the ultimate gift.’