Orange County, prepare yourself for the "Turbaned Tornado." That's the nickname of Sardar Fauja Singh, the keynote speaker at the Orange County Human Relations Commission's 23rd annual "Walk in my Shoes" leadership conference Thursday at Cal State Fullerton.
At age 100, Singh has worn out many shoes, having just completed his latest marathon in Toronto. When he was 92, he set the world record for the men's over-90 marathon run in five hours and 40 minutes. He went on to set similar records in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1,500m, 3,000m and 5,000m.
Fauja translates to "army," but he had a nickname as a child and it wasn't "Turbaned Tornado." It was "stick" on account of his spindly legs. He could not walk before age 5 and could barely cover a mile by 15 because he was so weak. In his authorized biography Turbaned Tornado, he said, "Perhaps it was the Almighty's way of preserving [my legs] for later years."
Standing 5-foot-8 and weighing just 115 pounds, Singh did not seriously begin running until age 89. It's all the more remarkable when you consider that as a follower of the Sikh religion, he always wears his turban on and off the running course as an outward sign of his inward faith in God.
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"Our goal is to empower and mobilize students to work towards creating positive social change," Rusty Kennedy, the OC Human Relations Commission's executive director, says in a statement about the conference keynoter. "Fauja Singh's life story and ongoing athletic feats--which are amazing at any age, let alone at age 100--will help to inspire and empower Orange County youth this year to make a difference on their campuses and in their corner of the world."
"As a centenarian marathon runner, Fauja Singh's infectious enthusiasm for life, running and healthy living is a model for all of us," added Dr. Gurpreet Singh Ahuja, an OC Human Relations board member and president of the medical staff at Children's Hospital of Orange County. "Sardar Fauja Singh runs because he loves it and because he can and his indomitable spirit is one that we want our youth in Orange County to see and emulate as motivation to move beyond barriers in their own lives."
Founded in 1971, the nonprofit OC Human Relations Commission has of late been working with local Sikhs and Muslims who have been the targets of hate crimes. Click here to read the commission's recent report.
More than 500 students and teachers are expected to attend "Walk in my Shoes," which explores identity, culture and leadership skills that can be developed. More information is available at ochumanrelations.org.