TIRUNELVELI: Becoming an athlete is many a time a thankless career choice, especially in a cricket-crazy nation like ours. In a star-starved republic, V Mohamed Ilham possesses all the attributes necessary to carve a niche for himself. During an illustrious career as a powerlifter, Ilham has won many accolades, including in the 120 kg category national bench press championship earlier this year in Coimbatore.
However, there was no marquee brand running after him with endorsement deals or media coverage. Even the proceeds from the victory were insufficient to redeem the gold jewellery Ilham pledged to fund his national dreams. The 41-year-old returned to his hometown in Tirunelveli to a nondescript gymnasium, nursing the broken dreams of having missed the World Championship bus for want of a sponsor.
The tall, well-built Ilham — the State bench press champion between 2013 and 2017 —is back shuttling behind the wheels of a car, which he drives part-time to provide for his family, and sweating it out at Sivanthi Adithanar Gym at Cheranmahadevi.
He told Express that despite bagging the coveted gold at the Coimbatore meet, he did not participate in the world championship selection in Jammu last month due financial crunch. “I pledged some jewellery to fund my state and national championship dreams. Now, I have nothing left. I cannot even buy new equipment for training.”
Hailing Ilham’s body strength and power, his trainer G Siva Ramalingaravi said, “He has the ability to shine in the international bench press arena. He has it in him to make it big in the powerlifting (bench press, squat and dead lift). We hope to get sponsorship.”
Ilham is the undisputed master of bench press in State, said Tamil Nadu Power Lifting Association Secretary S Nagarajan. “He managed 190 kg in the unequipped category and 212.5 kg in the equipped category. A weighlifter needs `400 daily to meet his dietary requirements. It is a pity that the strongman of Tamil Nadu, Mr Bench Press, is struggling to meet the basic food and sports equipment needs.”
Despite this, his eyes are set on the Commonwealth Powerlifting Competition slated to be held in South Africa in September. At `2.25 lakh, the demand to attend trials is quite steep.
However, Nagarajan hopes Ilham makes it before the trials start at Nagpur in May. “If he gets selected and manages a sponsorship, he can actively train in powerlifting,” he said.