Raised by his grandmother and working-class father after his mother died as a child, Eldhose Paul, who won historic triple jump gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, fought for the pocket money during his university years.
Originally from Kolencherry, a rural area 26 km from Ernakulam town, Paul struggled financially and took up athletics to find a job so he could support his family.
“His family was very poor, his mother died when he was about 5 or 6 years old and his grandmother (now in his 80s) raised him. His father is a worker, so he had financial problems”, said Paul’s childhood coach, TP. Useph told PTI from Kerala.
After passing his 12th standard exam, Paul, now 25, wanted to gain admission to the Mar Athanasius College (MAC) Sports Hostel in Kothamangalam.
The college is known for grooming Kerala athletes, but was initially rejected by Ouseph, the head coach, due to Paul’s short stature.
“Paul was brought by an acquaintance of mine to be admitted to the MAC sports hostel. It was around 2013. I was the head coach but I said that this boy was very small and that he was not suitable for the triple jump,” Ouseph said.
“For a triple jumper, his height was less. Even now he’s about 5ft 8in. But after a trial I found he (Paul) has very good speed, a springy body and explosiveness, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
Useph said Paul wasn’t impressive the first year, but picked up a few years later.
“When he was brought to me he could jump around 13m, the next year he improved to 14m and in the third year he was jumping close to 16m. So I knew this boy would win a day of medals for India.”
Useph said that Paul was facing financial difficulties and therefore he (Useph) helped him on several occasions.
“One or two days a week he leaves the hostel to go home and I asked him why. He said he worked at the sawmill his grandmother owned for her pocket money.
“He is very humble, has good manners and is focused on his goal. This separates him from my other trainees.
“When he came to me, he hadn’t had any systematic training. He had been in a few district competitions but he had nothing to brag about. I gave him systematic training from scratch.
Paul, who was pursuing a degree in arts, left college without completing his courses as he was selected by the Indian Navy in 2016.
“I told him to go and get the job, because it was very important for him financially. When he left in 2016, he was jumping around 15.75m. Later, he improved it while he was at Indian Navy over 16m and today he cleared 17m for the first time.
“I’m so happy to hear the news of his gold medal. Someone in his family called me today to break the news. I’m so happy that an athlete I treated has done the pride of the country.”