"You must compete in international meets abroad to improve," was the piece of advice PT Usha received from Milkha Singh when she met him way back in 1982 as she remembers the iconic athlete, who died on Friday.
Herself a track and field legend, Usha said she met Milkha Singh during an international competition in Korea.
"I met Milkha ji for the first time in 1982 and it was a memorable one. He advised me to focus on participating in international meets to improve my level," Usha told PTI in a telephonic interaction.
"Go and run outside the country, only then you can improve and compete with the foreigners, he would insists," she added.
The 'Payyoli Express' said it was her coach O M Nambiar, who introduced her to Milkha and she never missed an opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade from him.
"Ever since I got introduced to Milkha ji through my coach, I always used to ask him a lot of questions. And, he was always ready to answer them. He offered suggestions and spoke in an inspiring manner," she said.
Usha said Milkha Singh, who died of COVID-19 complications after battling hard for a month, would remain in the hearts of millions of Indians.
"I was shocked after hearing the news of Milkha Singh's death. He was a great athlete...an inspiring personality. He will continue to inspire many and will remain in the hearts of millions of Indian people," the 56-year said.
"He used to call me PT. He was a very nice person and whenever I met him he used to enquire about my son, husband. He used to ask about my academy and the trainees," she added.
"I was travelling from Calicut to Patiala and was tired. I got several calls and then came to know that Milkha Singh had passed away. I felt very bad because we have lost Milkha ji."
Speaking about his performance in the 1960 Rome Olympics, where the Flying Sikh missed out on a bronze, Usha said it showed that an athlete could shine despite not having the best of facilities.
"What a performance it was in the Rome Olympics. He showed what could be achieved with sheer willpower and dedication. He was a trailblazer."
Usha herself missed out on a medal by a whisker in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 in the 400 metres hurdles event. She too became the toast of the nation by winning several medals at the Asian Games and Asian championships.
Usha said Milkha always told the aspiring athletes that there was no substitute for hard work and dedication. "His dedication was amazing and he showed the way to youngsters with his performances. He always used to tell aspiring athletes that if they were dedicated, they could achieve anything," she said.