Former Olympian Muhammad Ashiq looks daily at the trophies he won in a successful cycling career for Pakistan, decades ago. “Perhaps most people think that I have died,” he laments.
“I just recall that I have shaken hands with… former Pakistani prime ministers, presidents, chief executives,” the 81-year-old tells media.
“Why and how they all forgot me, I cannot believe.” Ashiq, who competed for Pakistan at the 1960 and the 1964 Olympics, now works as a rickshaw driver in Lahore.
He began his sporting career as a boxer, switching to cycling in the 1950s when his wife complained about his injuries.
He competed in Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964.Although he won no medals, he was hailed as a national hero for Pakistan.
“I was so happy… I considered myself lucky to represent Pakistan in the Olympics,” he says. However, his the end of his cycling career presented miserable circumstances.
He took a PR job but left it for health reasons in 1977. He briefly drove a taxi and the a van before bouncing around several other small business ideas. However for the last six years, he has been reduced to driving a rickshaw, driving low-income passengers around Lahore’s crowded streets.
He lives in a 450-square-foot house on which he owes more than Rs1 million — a near-insurmountable amount provided that his rickshaw salary is roughly 400 rupees per day.
His wife has passed away. His four children do not live with him and he does not want to be dependent on them.
He used to hang his medals in his rickshaw, but not anymore.
Former Olympian Muhammad Ashiq holds his medals as he posses at his residence in Lahore.
Instead, quote by former US President Calvin Coolidge has been inscribed on the canopy: “Nations and states who forget their heroes can never be prosperous.”
When passengers ask him about the message, he tells them his story—using it as a cautionary tale for the poor in particular, whom he warns not to participate in sports.
His wife and four children begged him over the years to stop bemoaning his losses.
“Once my wife started weeping. I asked her why… She said she was just worried about my health.
She told me to be happy all the time and forget those who forgot us. I said okay, and she became happy for a while.
And after some period, she died.” That was two years ago. Now, he says, his hands shaking, he too prays for death.
I pray… to meet my beloved wife in heaven. I think it is better to avoid this pathetic situation I have endured,” he says.