Kochi: It was a surreal moment for India's illustrious men's hockey star, goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, when he shared the spotlight with Manuel Fredericks, the man who defended the goalpost at the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Team India returned home with a bronze medal.
The two goalkeepers from two different eras were brought together by the UAE-based NRI healthcare entrepreneur Dr Shamsheer Vayalil who had recently announced a cash award of Rs 1 crore for Sreejesh. It was Fredericks who presented the cheque to Sreejesh, who said it was a moment that he would cherish forever.
Speaking at the event, Sreejesh remembered the time he was first informed about Dr Vayalil's gesture.
"When I got the call first, I was certain that it was a prank," Sreejesh said. "Later, Dr Shamsheer himself spoke to me and told me that this prize was a small gift from one brother to another. For him, it may have been a small gift, but for me, it was the biggest gift anyone was giving me. I feel that decisions like these are guided by a selfless interest in sports. And I am sure that with this kind of encouragement, a golden period for sports is not far in Kerala's future."
Dr Vayalil is the founder Chairman and Managing Director of the UAE-based VPS Healthcare.
Fredericks, who flew down from Bengaluru to honour Sreejesh, was himself pleasantly surprised by Dr Vayalil. The healthcare entrepreneur announced a cheque of Rs 10 lakh for the Olympian. It was in 1972 that Kerala got its first Olympic medal in the form of the bronze that the then Kannur resident brought back home. History was repeated when Sreejesh, also in the goal, got a bronze as a part of the Indian men's hockey team in Tokyo.
Fredericks was visibly elated when his contributions as a sportsperson were acknowledged with a cash prize at the felicitation function for Sreejesh. An overwhelmed Fredericks hugged Sreejesh and thanked him. "It is heartening to see that people like Dr Shamsheer are coming forward today to recognise and encourage sportspersons. Gestures such as these will surely encourage Kerala's next generation of sports stars," he said.
Dr Vayalil, in a speech delivered virtually, said he hoped gestures of appreciation such as his would attract youth to sports. "My hope is that youngsters will get inspired by seeing two generations of legendary sportsmen on the same stage," Dr Valayil said. "The earlier generation's hard work and achievements have provided a solid foundation for today's accomplishments. May these achievements that have renewed the interest in hockey bring us more laurels. And I hope that people like P R Sreejesh and Manuel Fredericks will be at the forefront of such activities," he added.