I have always wanted the Indian flag to fly high- By Renu Kadian
The Asia Book of Records holder began race-walking at the age of 35 and has battled against all odds to get to where she is today
"Are you running?" "What kind of walking style is this?" "Instead of wasting your time with all this, go manage the house!"
I could write a book on the number of comments and questions that have been made about my decision to take up race walking at the age of 35. In India, the running commentary on your life is always more than the messages of support and I have had the pleasure of receiving both during the past few years. Sport has been a medicine for me especially since I have faced considerable abuse from my husband over the past few years. Despite this, I have surpassed all expectations with the foremost being my recent 24 hr walk covering a total of 150.7km. Fortunately for me, my life motto and God have always been the front-runners to govern the way I live and I will always stand by my beliefs in the quest for glory.
My journey with competitive sports began with me taking up Taekwondo in an institution where I used to take my children. I picked it up, competed in Open Categories, and went on to win a Gold medal in the Open National Taekwondo Championships despite being a mother of two children. This was my first proper interaction with sports on a professional level but it was not the last.
My first sight of race walking was on Youtube where I watched a video on what made it special as a sport. The style, stamina required and fitness regime got me interested to the extent that I was willing to give it a shot and try it out for myself. I happened to be visiting a stadium once and caught a glimpse of a coach who was walking in the exact 'race walking way' as I had seen on Youtube. I approached him and asked if he could train me but it was a firm 'no' from his side. He thought I was just casually taking it up and even mistook me for a college girl! But after some convincing, I managed to begin training and even took part in a tournament in Bangladesh a few months later. Over time, I have represented India in numerous races, have won a silver medal at the Asian Masters am currently an Asian Book Record holder.
One aspect of the sport that has always motivated me is to see the Indian flag flying high. This does not necessarily pertain to winning medals but has a lot to do with how my country has shaped me to be the woman I am today. I remember when I was competing in Spain, the athletes around me were shocked to know that I had trained for only 7 months and learned how to race walk. Some of them were competing and training for over 14-15 years and I still managed to beat quite a few of them despite it. I finished 5th at the 5000m race walking event in the 2018 World Master Athletics Championship held in Spain. I was the only Indian who managed to finish the event as race walking does involve a fair bit of disqualification of athletes while the event is going on. The fact that I was representing a country that was virtually unknown in the race walking domain was a matter of pride for me and outweighs a lot of the other achievements that I have. This is why I have always kept the country before me in every pursuit.
My feet and body have undergone tremendous pain especially during days of continuous training. I have braved the winter chill of Delhi, safety concerns ( of Delhi again), and numerous calls to quit including several from my ex-husband which even turned violent at times. However, I sustained my happiness through the toughest of times and strove to do the best I could with the resources I had. Despite the recent success of our athletes at the Olympics, I can go on record to say that I did not receive any monetary help from the government even once. It was only through the help of my parents and my funding that I managed to afford all the necessary expenses incurred for tournaments, training, etc. My dream is the Olympics and I have taken it upon myself to not stop training until I have become an Olympian.
Another aspect of sport that has resonated with me is the empowerment that it gives to everyone who watches and plays. My recent attempt at the 24 hr continuous walk was done to break more than just records. It was done to break stereotypes and stigmas attached to women in general and raise some kind of awareness on women's empowerment. With only a 4-month training window, I managed to finish the 150.7km walk and achieve all my intended goals. I am a single mother who has battled long and hard to get to where I am today. I have endured more off-field battles in my life which I feel no woman should have to go through especially those who wish to take up a sport as a way of life. Through the 24 hr walk, I have strengthened my belief in the fact that we can choose to be the best judges of ourselves. We use our resources in the best manner possible to alter the lives of people around us. I can reinforce this with the messages of love and affection I received from across the world after I ended the 24hr walk.
The famous saying 'age is just a number' is of much relevance to a lot of us in the field of sports. There is no doubt that the earlier you take up a sport, the better it is for you in terms of training and achieving glory. But for me, race walking was a chance encounter that developed into a passion that I never gave up. I will continue to use it as a platform for myself to grow, develop and change the society around me. The aim, for now, is to participate in the Olympics, and with the necessary support, I believe I can achieve my intended targets.
I will never digress from this path as long as I am alive. Both for the sake of myself and my country.