From the tropical nation of Fiji to the bustling south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, race-walking champion Pramesh Prasad has rediscovered his passion for health and fitness in the last few years, as NICK CREELY discovers……
Narre Warren race-walker Pramesh Prasad is simply making up for lost time, rekindling a passion that once took him to great heights as a junior.
The 44-year-old Fijian national continues to accumulate gold medals, bringing him back to his younger days as a prodigious talent before moving to Melbourne in the early 1990’s to chase his dreams.
“I was there (in Fiji) for 13 or 14 years, then I moved to Melbourne – stayed in the northern suburbs, went to school there, settled down and got married,” he said.
“I came through sports (to Melbourne) – I was one of the young athletes coming up in athletics, so we had this scholarship around ’89 or ’90, and I came to Collingwood Harriers Club in Clifton Hill, because I was a middle distance runner, and I loved it here and then I started schooling.
“About 10-12 years ago I moved into the south-east – I used to play a lot of golf, and there’s plenty of courses here, and I enjoyed that.”
Prasad adjusted well to life in a sport crazed city, but recalled his first experience with Melbourne’s famously inconsistent weather with a smile.
“The weather is not cold, and we don’t have winter in Fiji – throughout the year we have summer and its 25 degrees all year round, and the water temperature is around 20-25, and coming to Melbourne as a teenager, I went to the beach in Frankston and couldn’t understand how the water could be so cold,” he said.
“But because I came from an English speaking country, it all wasn’t a big issue for me, the only thing I found was how sporty Melbourne is.
“Everyone always talks about sport, and there’s so many runners and walkers, and so many good people.”
That competitive spirit – something imperative for every athlete – yielded Prasad instant results, and opened the door to race-walking.
“We had a school meet day where you compete with other schools, and I raced in the 800 metre and won that, and that’s how I started running middle distance, I was never a sprinter,” he said.
“I started with the 800 metre, and I loved that – I still love running, but the national coach introduced race walking to me, so I started that and when I came to Melbourne I tried that, and I started improving my race walking and I broke some national records in early age.
“It was in ’91, I was still a young guy, and looking back, I was very young to do a lot of long distance events, but I was happy to do it and fit enough to do it.
“Back then, we had a lot of senior athletes, so it was great to train with them and improve with them, and I got to the national Fiji team in ’91 – as a 16-year-old – and won silver and gold at the South Pacific Games, which is competed every two years. I also went to a World Racewalking Competition in 1995 in Beijing which was great.”
But things changed from that point onwards, as Prasad candidly describes.
“In Fiji we then had a coup, so a lot of sports were shut down and luckily I was here (in Melbourne) and started concentrating on my studies, so I slowed down a bit and my focus was into work, and somehow I took the path of that side, had a family and had kids,” he said.
“Three, four years ago, my dad got really ill and he passed away in 2015 – it was suddenly, when I found out he was sick he passed away within months – and it really shook me.
“I had an office job, and one day I looked at myself and said to myself ‘what are you doing’ – I was overweight, about 115kg, and I still enjoyed sports, and I knew I needed to do something.
“I always wanted to do something, because you still feel you can – it was on my birthday (21 April), and I still remember it, I decided to just have a jog or do something to get out of the house.
“I always made excuses, whether that be kids or working long hours, and I just decided to go and train – since then, I’ve changed my routine and habits, and the way I look at life.
“I remember the first day I came down to a ground and had a run, I couldn’t do it – I struggled to even run a kilometer, it was really tough.
“Your body gets sore quickly after a kilometre, and it was a big shock, I used to run so fast – I kept my motivation every day, and chipped away little by little and by the time I realized I was getting healthier, I knew I needed to find a track nearby.”
Enter the Casey Masters Athletics group, who helped re-discover that passion for athletics. Inside, he knew he belonged once again.
“I found the Casey Fields track, and on Mondays I found out people come in around 7pm, so I just came in and that was about three years ago, and joined the Masters group,” he said.
“I’m on the younger side of the Masters, and you see some of the older athletes, you won’t believe the men and women looking so healthy, and they don’t look at the age.
“If they can do it, why can’t I? that’s how I was thinking, if an 80-year-old can run, what’s my excuse?
And he competed once more, and with the motivation to live a healthy, fulfilled life, nothing could stop him.
The medals were being draped around his neck quicker than he could have imagined, with incredible results in Australian and National Masters championships.
“I started competing within months (of joining) – Mike Hall, he started talking to me and he said we have Masters events, and I wasn’t thinking about racewalking at that stage,” he said.
“But then I got an injury on my lower back, but because I put so much effort into my training, I didn’t want to give up – so on one of the evenings, I decided to do the walking event, and I walked and it didn’t hurt at all.
“And that was on the Thursday, and I was convinced to do the Masters event on the Sunday, and I went to the Victorian Masters Championship, and I won the gold in the 5000 metre, and the judges said I went ok, and that’s how it started.
“In the last three years, I’ve won three national titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and I’ve defended my title every time. Once you start feeling that confident and healthier, it helps.”
Adding to that accomplishment, on 4 March of this year Prasad broke a 21-year 5000 metre race-walk National Record for Fiji at the Victorian Championships.
But it’s nothing without the support of those closest to him, and he urges everyone to just get up, and give it a go.
“What makes it easier is the support from my wife and four teenage kids – they’ve seen me for what I was, and who I am now – my wife still doesn’t understand at times how I do it, and what she’s seen and how much I’ve changed, I wouldn’t do without her support,” he said.
“Just find your local club, and any sport, and just join – if you want to do just do runs, there’s running clubs, and whatever you’re interested in, just join.”