During my time at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1971, I witnessed incredible feats of strength and determination. As a civilian child, joining the academy was a challenge, especially since I had no prior experience with military life. However, I was determined to overcome my physical shortcomings and achieve my dream of becoming a second lieutenant in the Forces.
One of the most highly anticipated events at the NDA was the Cross Country race. Cadets from all squadrons would gather, donning their squadron colors and chest numbers, ready to compete. The race took place across an undulating landscape, with a solitary hill known as “lone tree hill” at the center. As a first-termer, I felt a mix of excitement and anxiety. Will I be able to complete the race? Can I bring glory to my squadron?
With a crack of a shot, the race began, and cadets sprinted ahead of me. It was a sight I had never seen before, with hundreds of cadets running towards the finish line. I pushed myself to the limit, running up and down the unforgiving slopes. Finally, the finish line came into view, and despite being one of the last to cross it, I felt a sense of accomplishment and patted myself on the back.
The top performers in the race were divided into enclosures, with the first arrivals in the first enclosure, the next lot in the second, and so on. I don’t remember which enclosure I landed in, but it didn’t matter. As a lesser mortal, my goal was personal growth and improvement. Each year, I participated in the race, gradually becoming a more confident runner. Eventually, I reached the third enclosure, a far cry from my early struggles.
However, the real hero of the NDA Cross Country was Sumer Singh from Lima (L) squadron. He achieved the remarkable feat of coming first for six consecutive terms, a record that still stands today. Sumer rightfully earned the NDA blazer and the highest cadet appointment, Academy Cadet Captain (ACC). His achievements inspired and awed all of us.
The NDA Cross Country taught me the importance of perseverance and pushing beyond one’s limits. It was a journey that tested our physical and mental strength, and the memories of those races, the camaraderie between squadrons, and the indomitable spirit of competitors will always hold a special place in my heart.