Sprinter Parvej Khan's study in USA was facilitated by Indian Navy

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 17-05-2024
Parvej Khan running for gold in  SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championship 2024 of Collegiate Athletics held in Louisiana, USA
Parvej Khan running for gold in SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championship 2024 of Collegiate Athletics held in Louisiana, USA


New Delhi

Parvej Khan, an Indian athlete who recently won 1500m title at the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championship 2024 of Collegiate Athletics held in Louisiana, USA - one of the toughest collegiate championships in the world- is an Indian Navy official who was specially permitted to study in a US college when he bagged a scholarship based on his record in athletics by the University of Florida.

This 18-year-old from Chahalka village of Mewat, Haryana, bordering capital New Delhi, has created waves in the USA by becoming the first Indian to win the 1500 m title. He clocked 3 minutes and 42.73 seconds to win the race at the LSU Bernie Moore Stadium in Baton Rouge. His personal best is 3:38.76, which he achieved in California last month.

Parvej Khan was recruited into the Indian Navy after he won a gold medal in the 1500m at the Open National Championships in Warrangal in 2021.The Indian Military scouts for talent and recruits promising athletes and other sportspersons.

Before this, Parvej had won gold in the Under-16 category 800m national games in Mangalagiri in 2019, and a bronze at the U-18 Khelo India Games in 2020.

A job in the Military is a dream for many young Meo Muslims who outnumber others in this region. However, for Parzej it helped him in more than one way. The Navy job gave him financial stability as he could pay off family debts with his salary. Also, the Indian Navy gave him training in running and when the offer from a US University came, the Navy supported him.

He told Sports Star, "With the scholarship offer letter in hand, Khan next approached his superiors in the Indian Navy for permission to study abroad.

Parvej Khan running on the track

“In the defense services, it’s really hard to get permission to study or train abroad. When I spoke to the captain of my unit, I told him that very few people get this opportunity and that I would do my best to improve as an athlete. They trusted me and I got that chance.”

Parvej Khan’s story is of a boy with no means who reached what those with huge resources can’t even dream of.

It was during his self-training to get into the Army that he realized his innate talent. As a teenager, he was competing with adolescents and way ahead of them. He had heard of training centers in New Delhi where boys like him are admitted, so moved to the capital to stay with his uncle who drove a taxi.

Soon he was running on the world-class tracks of the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium. He was selected for higher training by the Sports Authority of India and shifted to Bhopal.

His gold medal in the national event and the was to changed his life and prepared the world to receive an immensely talented sprinter.

Khan created history by winning the toughest championships in the USA. According to Sports Star, Khan has made history and was not even aware of it. In January, he was the second runner-up in the mile race at the Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville, Texas. Khan crossed the finish line in 3.59.20 - a new Indian indoor athletics record in the mile (1600m). 

Interestingly, the indoor race was his first experience. Khan has been improving his timings in the USA to emerge as one of the top athletes in the USA.

His performance in the USA is being closely watched by the Managers of Sports Scene in India. Nuzhat Gull, Secretary of J&K Sports Council, who changed the dismal sports scene of Kashmir, noticed a future Olypian in Parvez for India. She wrote on X:

While his journey in America is only the beginning, Khan can scarcely believe he has come as far as he has.

“I’m a boy from a village in Mewat. Back when I had started if you had told me back then that one day I’d be studying in the USA, training and running along with Olympic medallists, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he told the magazine.

Back home there were jubilitions at Khan’s house and the district. His father Nafees Ali, who grows wheat and fodder on the five acres of land that he shares with his three other brothers, says the income from farming is not enough. He just grows enough to feed his family and two buffaloes. Ali and other members of the family also work as farm labourers to earn extra money.

His admission to the top US university is an interesting story. Based on his national gold, Parvej was included in the Indian national camp for the first time. In early 2023, he was part of an Indian training contingent that travelled to the USA’s Olympic training center in Colorado. 

By the quirk of fate, he suffered a hairline fracture during training forcing him to take rest. During this period, he dreamed of training at the Olympic Training Institute in Colorado. 

“I saw that the college students were using the same facilities that were meant for training potential Olympians.”

Parvej Khan running on the track in the USA

While he dreamed of being there – in the USA - he had no idea of how it could happen. The prodding by one of his social media friends from Morocco made him file the application and write the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), he was selected mainly for his sports performance. A coach whom he was consulting told him that the Universities were looking for international runners.

That coach was Will Palmer who had recently joined the University of Florida which is renowned for its sprints program. It has eight tracks and athletes have won 17 Olympic medals between them over the past couple of decades.

Palmer told the magazine, “I first started speaking with Parvej around April last year. I felt he was the sort of runner who could be special. I knew he was talented just based on his age and the time he was clocking.”

The University offered him a scholarship to study and train, but Parvej was unsure if the Indian Navy would support him to study abroad.

He says in the Military services, it’s unprecedented to get permission to study or train abroad. When I spoke to the captain of my unit, I told him that very few people get this opportunity and that I would do my best to improve as an athlete. They trusted me and I got that chance,” he says.

Khan admits he felt a bit like a fish out of water when he arrived at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville.

In the University, Khan’s day begins with training at 6 a.m.After breakfast, he attends his class at 9.30 a.m.; and weight training sessions at  2 p.m. and 6 p.m.  In between he runs for his tuition classes to help him with academics.

 He remembers being in awe on his first day of training when he went to the running track and found himself warming up alongside Grant Holloway, the Tokyo Olympic silver medallist in the 110m hurdles.

His coach says, “One thing I’ve noticed is that Parvej hates to lose. You can’t coach that. He’s just a really good competitor. At the end of the race, when most people start getting tired, he finds an extra gear and manages to finish in front."

Parvej Khan hates to lose

If his coach is impressed with his determination to push himself to the very limit, Khan is grateful not just for the training facilities but also for the environment he has been able to train in.

“In India, you are always scared of what your coach is going to do or say. Here, you have a lot more freedom. Also in India, you are always being told about why you can’t do something. Here the thinking is to have big dreams and then think how you can accomplish them,” says Khan.

Khan’s signature move to catch his necklace in between his teeth as he runs is caught attention. A couple of weeks ago, Khan was named freshman athlete of the week by the Gators for breaking and then improving his school record in the indoor mile.

Palmer says, “I think he has the potential to be one of the very best in the NCAA. Running in the NCAA will not just make him a faster and better athlete and competitor, it will make him much more ready to run for India. I think he should be running for India all the time,” says Palmer.

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“It’s great that I’m doing well in the indoor competition, but my actual goal is to do well at outdoor competitions. I can’t say I’m not thinking about the Olympics. I can either qualify by meeting the automatic qualification standard (3.33.50) or through my ranking. I will try my best to qualify directly but I also think that there are a lot of points on offer at the outdoor NCAA championships. If I do well in that competition, it could improve my chances of qualification,” says Khan.