Parvej Khan: From backwaters of Nuh to university circuit of USA

- May 16, 2024

The runner used a mile-long stretch in his village, which borders Gurugram, to fulfill dreams of becoming an athlete; he is now on a scholarship at University of Florida, earning honours and medals

RACING AHEAD: Parvej Khan won 1500m gold with a time of 3:42.73 seconds on May 11 at the SEC Championships in Louisiana

Six summers ago, Parvej Khan got a beating from his father Nafis Ahmed for not scoring well during class ninth examination. 

He was more interested in running around the fields with youngsters of the Chahalka village (district Nuh) bordering Gurugram in Haryana, and faced the wrath of the elderly in the family when his school marks weren’t impressive. 

The family was inclined towards academics and not sports. 

“He (Parvej) wanted to pursue sports. Running was his passion,” recalled his uncle Khalid Hussain, who was his mentor and guide. We gave him a chance to prove himself during a local mile (1600m) road race on the 2018 Independence Day. He emerged victorious. 

With the victory at the Independence Day race in Manesar began his journey in the highly competitive sporting world. To some extent, it played a pivotal role in shaping his destiny. 

These days, the 19-year-old from Haryana is balancing academics and athletics at the University of Florida in USA. He has got a four-year athletics scholarship. 

Khan is the fourth Indian athlete to earn a sports scholarship in USA. 

Tejaswin Shankar (high jump), Vikas Gowda (discus throw) and Mohinder Singh Gill (triple jump) are the other three prominent Indian track and field athletes to have competed in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) competitions. 

Khan has done exceptionally well on the USA collegiate circuit in the past four months. While he made his debut at the 2024 NCAA Indoor Championships in March, he won 1500m gold with a time of 3:42.73 seconds last weekend (May 11) at the SEC Championships in Louisiana. He won bronze in the 800m. 

According to Hussain, a village school teacher, his nephew has to focus on both studies and sports. Recently when his friends from Chahalka wanted to interact with him on phone, the University of Florida student refused to entertain them saying “I have no time at the moment as I have to attend classes,” and would be free after two hours. 

“His father is happy that his son is able to balance his passion for sports with academics,” his uncle told Patriot over the phone from his village. 

Strong Roots 

Local environment does play an important role in shaping the lifestyle of youngsters. The village life in district Nuh not only made Khan physically and mentally tough but emotionally strong too. 

What was the main reason for Khan to opt for middle-distance track races? It has something to do with the local environment. There was no scouting system or someone to guide him in the area. 

He followed what he observed. School and college students of the village have been enrolling themselves for the army for the past decade and several youngsters got jobs in defence forces. 

Since there are no facilities for running or other sports, the aspiring youngsters of the village preparing for the army have marked a long stretch of 1600m, one of the physical parameters to get enrolled in the army, on a road in the village. 

Khan often tested himself on that 1600m stretch with other boys as he was also interested in joining the army. “This is how he became a middle-distance runner. He often ran 1600m in the village,” Khan’s uncle explained. 

Pushing hard in the race too was ingrained during his formative years of running on the village fields and roads. The general trend, Khan’s uncle said, was that the army aspirants ran at an easy pace in the beginning of 1600m stretch during physical fitness regimen and then sprint hard in the last 200 metres or 300 metres.

During his races on the US circuit, Khan has been seen sprinting hard and fast at the fag end of the challenging races, which has earned him huge applause even from race commentators. 

“No one taught him how to run the race. When to accelerate or slow down the pace. Certain things have come naturally to him. Pushing hard in the last 200m or 300m of the 1500m or 800m event was adapted by him during his village days,” his uncle recalled. 

“He continues to follow the same trend. But he might learn more in USA.” 

Long, Arduous Journey 

There were no resources in and around the village that could nurture Khan’s talent. It was a challenging situation for the family whose basic source of earning was farming. Efforts made by Hussain through online search raised hopes of moving forward but there were hurdles. 

Khan patiently faced all the hurdles in his formative years of running and managed to negotiate them with ease. There was no coach in the village or nearby. Neither the family had enough financial resources to send him to metro cities that offered good sports facilities, including coaching. 

“An official of the Haryana government told us to send him (Khan) to Gurgaon, but the expenditure was Rs 20,000 per month for coaching and accommodation. It was beyond our means,” Khan’s uncle revealed. “The proposal was rejected.” 

In 2018 the promising school going runner went to Mumbai to compete in the Reliance Youth sports activity. The online entry was filled by his uncle. The organisers paid all the expenses and the Haryana lad won the 2km race in Mumbai. “The win in Mumbai gave a big boost to his confidence as well as showcased his potential in middle-distance events,” Hussain claimed. 

He shifted to Delhi in 2019. He stayed with relatives and practiced at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. But after staying in Delhi for a couple of months, he moved to Bhopal and came in contact with athletics coach Anupama Srivastava. She was one of the coaches at Madhya Pradesh Athletics Academy in the state capital.

Moving to Bhopal turned out to be a big step forward for the small-time farmer’s son from Haryana. Khan’s family is close knit. His parents and uncle stay together and the joint family owns nearly four acres of agricultural land. 

REAPING REWARD: Parvej Khan hails from a farming background. His family owns four acres of land

Khan is the second of the four siblings. His younger brother played cricket for a while but has switched to weightlifting and practices in Yamunanagar in Haryana.

Coach Anupama said that she wasn’t able to enroll the promising middle-distance runner from Haryana in the academy initially as he didn’t fulfill the norms. 

But three-four months later, Khan’s impressive performance at the 2021 National Junior Athletics Meet in Guwahati, Assam, paved the way for his enrollment at Bhopal’s athletics academy. Khan’s family was excited and acknowledged the athletics coach’s efforts in guiding the youngster. 

“It was a big support to us as my nephew continued to move forward,” Hussain added. “We were happy that things were moving in the right direction.” 

In 2021, Khan faced a temporary setback after being deemed overage. “I advised him (Khan) to move up to senior level and stay away from controversy,” recalled Anupama, Khan’s athletics coach in Bhopal. In 2021 Khan competed at the Senior Open National Athletics Competition in Warangal, Telangana. He won the men’s 1500m title with a time of 3 minutes, 42 seconds. The performance in the senior group further added to his profile and he was shortlisted for the national camp in preparation for the Hangzhou Asian Games held in 2023 in China. 

A year after winning gold at senior level, he got a job under Indian Navy sports quota scheme but continued to practice in Bhopal. 

In preparation for the 2023 Asian Games, he went to Colorado Springs, USA, for international exposure along with other elite Indian distance runners. 

As destiny would have it, he sprained his ankle during practice and was sidelined for a couple of months. Due to lack of fitness, he wasn’t able to compete in the Asian Games trials. 

But he came back stronger and won gold in men’s 1500m at the National Games held in Gujarat in November, 2023. 

In early 2024, he flew to USA and is now looking forward to achieving Paris Olympic Games qualification time in either 1500m or 800m. 

After winning 1500m gold at the SEC Championships in Louisiana on May 11, Khan called up his uncle, saying he was making efforts to make the cut for the Olympic Games. 

Athletes can qualify for the Olympic Games, scheduled to start on July 26 in Paris, either through the world ranking system or by achieving automatic qualification standards set by World Athletics in each event. The deadline to qualify is June 30. 

RESIDENCE: The house where Parvej Khan was brought up in a joint family

The Olympic qualification time in men’s 1500m is 3:33.50 seconds while it is 1:44.70 in the 800m event.

As per World Athletics website, Khan’s personal best is 1:46.12 in 800m and 3:38.76 in the 1500m. 

The men’s national record of 3:35.24 seconds in 1500m and 1:45.65 in the 800m stand in the name of Jinson Johnson. 

“The qualification times in both 1500m and 800m are very challenging, but we have faith in God,” Hussain said.