The most exciting thing about Nisar Ahmad is his sheer potential. The young speedster has broken the Under-16 100m record twice since September, cutting his time from 11 seconds in flat to 10.85 and then 10.76 at the recently concluded Khelo India School Games.

Anyone who is familiar with sprinting will see this rapid improvement as an aberration; short-distance running is a matter of fine margins and this sort of rapid improvement is rare, especially when approaching the ten-second mark. Ahmad’s journey to the top of Indian athletics has been difficult, and until recently without the help of proper diet and top-level coaching.

Ahmad grew up impoverished in a 10×10 home in Delhi’s Azadpur. His parents earn about twelve thousand rupees a month together. He caught a lucky break at a sports day at his school, when Surender Singh, the physical education teacher, saw his raw speed and realized that Ahmad had something special. Since 2013, Singh has not only coached Ahmad, but also supported him financially, buying him milk, fruits, nuts, and ghee.

Ahmad’s career seemed over in February 2016, when he was diagnosed with chikungunya. His legs were immobile and in excruciating pain. He fell behind in training, watching competitions had planned on dominating pass him by. It was with the tireless support of Singh and Sunita Rai, who is now Ahmad’s coach, that he picked himself up and came into 2017 strong.

After a hard road, the future is now bright for Ahmad. He has been selected as a part of a delegation of twelve youth athletes from across India to train at the Racers Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica, the home of none other than Usain Bolt. They will participate in a month long camp aimed at improving them technically, physically, and giving them context as to where they stand against the international athletic standard.

After the publicity of the Khelo India initiative, the government is developing a scheme to provide a thousand youth athletes with five lakhs a year, supporting them until they are old enough to compete in professional events and attract sponsorship. GAIL, which helped promote the Khelo India Games, has found Ahmad a better home, which it pays for. He now has the resources of premier coaching and proper nutrition to supplement his development. “He has the fire to do well, which is rare for athletes his age,” says Rai. “Our national record in 100m men’s is 10.26 seconds. And if Nisar keeps at it, he could beat it.” The Commonwealth Games next year are Ahmad’s next target.