P. MARIAPPAN has dedicated almost 34 years of his life to powerlifting – and bringing glory to the country.
And the 56-year-old has seen many ups and downs in his life.
Life was good when he was a national powerlifter.
Afflicted with polio when he was three years old, Mariappan never let his physical disability stop him from working his way up to become a successful powerlifter.
The former world record holder competed in seven Paralympics – winning two bronze medals in Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992). He has also won a host of international titles.
He has made the nation proud by winning all over the world – bagging more than 70 medals – and given a hero’s welcome at the airport, gala receptions and awards in recognition of his feats.
Those were the good times as he was also showered with incentives and rewards for his success.
But the last couple of years have been mostly down.
The unemployed father of three school-going children is staring at a bleak future.
His life took a turn for the worst when he lost his permanent job with an American firm – Matheson PFC Group, which closed down 10 years ago. He was working as a mailroom assistant then and was paid RM16,000 as compensation for his 15 years’ service.
The National Sports Council (NSC) helped him out when he lost his job by offering him a full-time trainee scheme from 2007 to 2012.
But his services were then terminated and he now lives on a paltry RM320 monthly subsidy from the Welfare Department.
And all he has is a flat in Batu Caves, which he shares with disabled wife, B. Chandriga, who is also jobless and their three children – Tanuja, 17, Sreetharan, 15, and Thaarani, 9.
“I have no steady income to provide for my family. My children are still studying. I have to pay for their education, tuition, school bus, bills, daily home requirements and others,” said Mariappan, who is sad that the sacrifices of athletes like him seem to have been forgotten by the powers-that-be.
“I sometimes send them to school and tuition on my improvised three-wheel motorbike.
“How much longer can I go on without a fixed income?
“I have asked for help from various organisations and individuals on numerous occasions but none came forward.
“I feel like a shirt. It is nice when you first wear it. Then, when it is old and worn out ... and of no use, it is thrown away. It has no more value ... just like I am no longer of any use.”
All Mariappan is hoping for is some form of retirement benefits from the government.
“I’ve sacrificed everything for the country. But what is there for me now?” he asked.
His current financial difficulty has made him consider returning to competition.
“I’m still the top powerlifter in my weight category (below 80kg) in Malaysia today. I’m no quitter,” he said.
“I still train at a gymnasium near my house for free for three hours daily.
“I have not competed in any international events for the last two years. But I’m prepared to make a comeback if that is what it takes for me to help my family.”
But does he have to make a return - especially at this age?