Run, Budhia, run - India's Forrest Gump

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The Independent Online

India has its newest and shortest sporting hero. When Budhia Singh strayed on to a sports ground and got into mischief, the local coach punished him by ordering the three-year-old Indian slum boy to run laps around the track. When he arrived back five hours later to find the boy still running, he realised he had stumbled upon a real life version of the fictional Forrest Gump.

"I was stunned to find him still running," said Biranchi Das. Yesterday, Budhia ran for 36 miles, starting at the Jagannath temple in Puri, dodging buses and cattle carts on the highway to reach the state capital at Bhubaneshwar in just over seven hours.

Mr Das, his devoted new trainer, cycled behind him, as usual. The world record for the youngest long-distance runner, currently held by an eight-year-old boy who ran 32 miles, is in their sights. A stumbling block will be producing a birth certificate to verify Budhia's age.

Budhia's extraordinary running career was almost a non-starter. The only son of a widowed dishwasher, the boy was sold last year for just 800 rupees (£10). None of his three sisters could fetch anywhere near this sum, and high-spirited Budhia was set to become an indentured servant. Such desperate survival measures are common in the poor towns of eastern India. "I could not provide him with bread and butter and so I sold him . After that, Sir [Biranchi Das] brought my son back," Budhia's mother, Sukanti Singh, told reporters after her son's run. "Now, I want him to become a big man. I could not do anything for him due to my poverty. So, I want his success," she said with pride.

Mr Das said: "He has the rare potential to become a marathon runner and compete in a future Olympics if properly guided."

These days, young Budhia is no longer forced to run on empty. Instead of subsisting on a few handfuls of rice, he scoffs down meat, eggs, milk, and soybeans, three meals a day. The boy is gaining muscle, height, and strength.

"I wake up early in the morning, finish my daily chores and start running. I don't feel the pain when I run. I enjoy it," Bushia said yesterday. "I will run when I grow up," he added.

Road training for Budhia begins at 5am every day and continues until noon. Lunch follows a series of stretches, and four hours later, he gets up to run again. Afterwards, he practises the alphabet and is striving to be the first in his family to learn to read.

Budhia can already point out his name on the prize he won from the state governor for completing a 15 mile run at a recent athletics meet. The boy still has far to run.

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