At first, I did not know anything about running. What is running, why do people run, I didn’t know anything.
My school was in the village which was about 3-3.5 km away from my home. There was no specific road so my friends and I used to go on foot. And, I remember, we used to run all the way. Sometimes we would be late, so we used to run really fast.
When I was studying in the 6th standard, my school’s PT teacher asked me to join the Kho Kho team. I always had a love for sports and I could not say no. For Kho Kho practice, at that time, we had to go around 6 am in the morning when it used to be empty, there was a small forestation along the way, so it used to be scary, being a little girl. I used to wake up early in the morning and run all the way to my school. That was what running was to me when I was a kid.
In Maharashtra, the problem of water scarcity is the most pronounced in my area. It’s a big problem so agriculture is difficult. For families like us, whose main occupation is farming, we have to depend on agriculture. We have to wait eagerly for the monsoons, only then can we produce any crops.
The only source of water was quite far. So, the only way to survive was to run all the way or cycle all the way and get water. I think all this running that I did as a kid helped me build my endurance.
In the village, when I had started taking part in sports, some people were supportive, others not so much. I used to get disappointed but my mom and dad supported me. I also got support from my uncles and all, we had a joint family and everyone backed me. Because they believed in me, I stopped listening to other people.
I guess because I have been running from before I could remember, I started believing that I could run away from all the noise. And I did.
After I ran my first marathon, I realised I could take it up seriously as a profession. Soon, I ran my second. Gradually, I progressed and with time, I started winning state meets. So I started to focus on running and left Kho Kho.
Even then, when my father used to go out, people used to ask him, “Why are you making your girl take part in sports?” My father used to reply, “It’s her choice, if she wants to run, she can run.”
Years later, when I went to the Rio Olympics, I qualified for the finals, which I came to know later was a feat. No Indian had qualified for the final of a track event in any Olympics in the last 32 years. Personally, though, I could not believe that I had made it to the final.
At one point, weeks ahead of the Olympics, I almost thought of giving up running. The way we were preparing for the Olympics, it was tough. We were not allowed to meet our parents, we were not allowed to keep mobile phones. We had a one hour time to use mobile phones and even that was not on all days. I missed my family back home but somehow kept myself motivated. Credit must go to my coaches for pushing me throughout to be at my best.
In the Rio final, however, I could not do as well as I wanted to. I was carrying an injury, about which I had not told anyone at that time because I did not want to upset the fans back in India who were counting on me. I wanted to give my very best despite my injury. In the end, I fell short of my dream of winning an Olympic medal.
It’s been a while since I got on the track. Marriage happened in between, which has turned out to be such a blessing. I have a small daughter now and it is amazing what childbirth can do to you.
I still want to keep running, though. I want to train and compete at the next Asian Games. Where do I get the motivation? Look at my husband. He never took part in running so much, he was a volleyball player but he was never into running. Now he is completing 21km marathons, so if he can do, I can also make a comeback, don’t you think?