Bhawna Jat: From racewalking barefoot to chasing Olympic dream in Tokyo
Bhawana Jat's story from extremely humble beginnings to representing India at the Tokyo Olympics is nothing short of inspiring
Had it not been for the physical education teacher at her village school Hiralal Kumawat, who stumbled upon Bhawana grazing her cattle by chance and asked her to participate in an athletics event, maybe she wouldn't have gone on to represent India at the Tokyo Olympics.
Bhawna's last moment entry to the event organized by her school saw her having to enlist in the only event where there was a slot – 3 km racewalk, and she reluctantly agreed. What happened next changed her life for the better. Finishing second in the race, she discovered a new thrill and obsession and urged her teacher to train her. From that point on, she never looked back.
Societal norms were against her passion and the methods required to achieve it. Therefore, to avoid the attention of over-inquisitive and curious neighbors in her village, Bhawna used to get up at 3 AM and practice in her shorts.
She also found support from her own father, a mason in the village. The 25-year-old has repeatedly stressed that had it not been for her father, she would've been attending her farm today and not be competing at the Olympics.
The first few years of her amateur career saw her racing barefoot because she didn't have the money to get herself proper shoes. Her father had to juggle the family's finances as Bhawna's elder brother suffered from a rare mental illness and his treatment cost more than what the family could afford.
In light of such difficulties, the racewalker found some respite when Indian Railways offered her a job in 2016. Working at the chaotic and busy Howrah Station in West Bengal, Bhawna understandably found little time to train after her shifts got over. The only way she managed to draw extra hours to dedicate to her training was after medalling in Inter-State Railway competitions.
Tragedies kept on piling and so did the pressure around her. The weather in Kolkata made it hard for her to train, the Railways weren't too keen on awarding her a leave, her brother's mental illness continued to burn a hole in the Jat family's finances, and Bhavana didn't have the money to travel to Rohtak in order to train under her mentor Gurmukh Sihag.
To help her out, Bhawna's brother Prakash, who's also an athlete, took a break in his career and started providing for the family as well as supporting the youngest sister's ambitions. Through all of this, her spirit never faltered.
When she takes to the streets of Tokyo today, Bhawna will be racewalking, like she once did during the coldest nights in Kabra, hoping to the get to the finish line at any cost.
She will be racing for her family, who did not pressurised by societal norms but instead, let her dreams fly. She will be racing for her brothers and more importantly, she will be racing for her country and herself. Because that's what she does.