On November 3rd, HBO will air a documentary entitled "Marathon Boy", about India's child marathon runner Budhia Singh.
Here's a trailer for the documentary, as viewed on HBO's official site.
I first heard about little Budhia via an article from the BBC News entitled "What happened to Budhia Singh, India's Marathon Boy?" and was reminded of his story today, upon seeing "A Child Running for His Life" in the Wall Street Journal Online.
I was not running ultras when I read the first article, but found the story disturbing. Essentially, "Marathon Boy" refers to Budhia Singh, a child from the slums of India who was sold by his mother to a peddler at a very young age. Budhia possesses a natural talent for running, which was spotted by judo coach Birachi Das, who subsequently adopted the boy. By the age of three, Budhai had run several marathons. By the age of four, he had run 48.
I remember having mixed feelings about the story when I first read it. My strongest and most immediate reaction was of concern for the young boy; even if he liked running and was driven to pursue it (which I think is the argument typically given by the parents of such phenomenal child athletes), it seemed like an extremely harsh schedule for one so young. Indeed, at the age of four and in 93 degree heat, Budhai ran a 42 mile race at 5.75 mph pace while being urged on by Das, only to collapse at the finish, unable to walk a single step further and ultimately requiring medical attention that according to the doctor, saved his life.
I don't care who you are, that's disturbing stuff.
On the other hand, I could not help but wonder at the boy's stamina - a four-year-old running 42 miles at 5.75 mph pace? That's astonishing. And yet, at the same time, unsettling.
It's unsettling because it does not fit with our ideas of what a child that age should be able to accomplish, and while it can be inspiring when adults push themselves past the limits of what we all thought was possible, in the case of a child being urged on by his or her parents, it makes for a far darker tale.
I don't get HBO so I don't plan on watching it. If I did get HBO, I still don't know that I'd watch it, though the trailer is certainly compelling. I find the story alone tough enough to contemplate,and I'm not sure anything would be gained by viewing the footage.
Still, it's an interesting story of human stamina... but also a complex tale of greed and even love. Birachi was not the first Indian youth that Das "saved" from the slums, but to what end? I don't know the answer to that. I even had mixed feelings about the boy being banned from running long distances; I understand the reasoning (and I'm no pediatrician), but the idea of being told you cannot run long distances because a higher governing body does not think it's right rubs me the wrong way.
If the boy wants to run, I think he should be able to run... and when he wants to stop, let him stop... and provide him with guidance and education on everything in between. Or, perhaps the fear is that if he runs again, he will again be caught up in the fervor surrounding his talent, and he will be compelled to push further... I don't know, it's all speculation at this point.
Regardless, there is an interesting story here for us as runners, parents, and human beings. I wish Budhia Singh the best in all that he does, and hope he finds peace in his running and in himself.