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The last run of the Turbaned Tornado

Many find running a marathon a challenge, but try that at the ripe age of 101.

World famous runner Fauja Singh, also known as the Turbaned Tornado, the Turbaned Torpedo, the Running Baba and the Sikh Superman, ran his last official race in Hong Kong on Feb. 24, retiring from the sport just 5 weeks before his 102nd birthday. The British, Indian-born athlete hangs up his shoes after over a decade of professional running with nine full marathons and a handful of half and mini marathons completed.

Singh was born in British India in 1911, the youngest of four children. From an early age he suffered from a poor constitution, and did not even develop the ability to walk until the age of 5. It seems that these difficulties inspired him to pursue running as a pastime, since he became an accomplished amateur runner as a young man. However, the 1947 Pakistan/India partition forced him to give up this passion.

Following the death of his wife, son and daughter in a short three-year span, Singh took up running again as a means of coping with his grief in the mid 1990s. As he told CNN, “I suffered a tragic incident in my life, a traumatic experience; I took up running as a new focus in life. And then marathon running developed from there.”

In 2000 he ran his first professional race at the age of 89 by participating in the London Marathon, where he achieved world-wide fame by beating the previous world record for the 90+ age bracket by a full 58 minutes. In 2004 he managed to set the record again at its current value of 6 hours and 7 minutes. Throughout the remainder of his career, he managed to break a number of other records. Most impressively on Oct. 13, 2011 he managed to set 8 world records in running distances from 100 meters to 5,000 meters, all in the course of a single day.

As a cap to his record setting, he became the first centenarian to finish a marathon when he ran in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2011. However, this accomplishment was not recognized by the Guinness World Records, which required a birth certificate to confirm his age. Since India did not keep birth records at the time of his birth, Singh could not provide one. His passport indicating his birth date at April 1, 1911, a letter from the Indian government explaining the lack of birth records, and a letter from Queen Elizabeth congratulating him on his 100th birthday all proved insufficient for Guinness.

His accomplishments have won an incredible degree of fame and recognition on the world stage. He served as a torchbearer for both the 2004 and the 2012 Olympics. As a vegetarian, he was officially the oldest person to appear in a PETA campaign in 2011. Singh even enjoyed a period of success as a spokesman for Adidas.

Yet despite his success, Singh tries to maintain a simple life. What money he does manage to raise in his marathons has largely been given away. The vast majority of the profits produced by his Adidas sponsorship have been donated to charity. Indeed, he frequently volunteers to participate in nonprofit events, such as the mini marathon held in India earlier this year to champion women’s rights and protest violent crimes against women.

Singh’s retirement was a bittersweet moment for the old athlete. “I am feeling a bit of happiness and a bit of sadness mixed together. I am happy that I am retiring at the top of the game, but I am sad that the time has come for me to not be part of it,” he said in a pre-race press conference.

Though he will be giving up professional racing, he plans to keep up with the sport. “I will keep running to inspire the masses,” he told the Times of India. “Running is my life and I really would not have stopped competing if I had not crossed the age of 100.” To meet this goal, he plans to continue running at least four miles every day, mainly as an example to others.

Many have wondered about the key to this 5’8,’’ 117 lbs., great-great-grandfather’s success, but the runner claims that it lies mainly in his diet and lifestyle. He avoids alcohol and tobacco, eats only vegetarian food, and goes to bed early. As he explained to the BBC, “The secret to a long and healthy life is to be stress-free. Be grateful for everything you have, stay away from people who are negative, stay smiling and keep running.”

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