As Hanmant Shivankar stood stoically near the victory podium, his mind raced to the day, several years back, when he had learnt that his daughter had sneaked away to compete in a running event.
“A wave of panic gripped me,” he told as he watched his daughter soak in the adulation at a Khelo India Youth Games victory ceremony, disclosing in an emotional voice that she had been diagnosed with childhood asthma and the family had done everything to keep her away from smoke and dust to avoid inflaming her lungs and her airways.
“Her school physical education teacher had called to seek my consent for taking Sudeshna to the athletics meet. I had flatly refused,” he revealed. But the teacher and Sudeshna had still conspired to go for the event.
“I somehow got to know about their trip and raced to the event, hoping to stop her. But, by the time I reached the venue, Sudeshna had already won the race,” Hanmant laughed.
More importantly, she had caught the eye of athletics coach Balwant Babar, who was also the Taluka Sports Officer then, too.
All these years later, Maharashtra’s Sudeshna not only emerged as the fastest woman at the KIYG but also as the standout performer in track and field, having completed an eye-catching hat-trick in sprints, winning the 100m, 200m and 4x100m gold.
Recalling that incident, Sudeshna said, “Thankfully, my parents were at our native place in Kharshi, about 20km from Satara. Since that day, of course, they have extended every support that I needed,” she gushed.
Asked how her PT teacher had even chosen her for sprinting, Sudeshna revealed that she used to play kho-kho with the girls in school without the knowledge of her parents. It was her speed that caught the eye of the teacher.
“During those days, if I suffered an asthma attack, I would just take rest and start playing against after a while. It never bothered me,” she declared triumphantly.
As her condition improved with regular training and advancing age, Sudeshna started to make a mark on the track, making it to the reserves list of the 4×100 relay team for the School Nationals in Bhopal two years later.
A year later, she qualified for the Pune Khelo India Youth Games in the U-17 category and went on to win the 100m gold.
But the competition in Pune also taught her the difference between running on a mud and a synthetic track, as until then, she had only trained on a mud track back home in Satara. The nearest synthetic was in Kolhapur, which was about 120kms away.
Though Sudeshna and her coach tried to go to Kolhapur for training at least once a month it wasn’t always feasible. So coach Babar changed strategies.
“My coach started building my technique needed for a synthetic track. You need to lean forward and have a good knee lift. In the last few years, he has worked a lot on these and it is bringing in the results now,” she conceded.
Sudeshna was hoping tocrack the qualifying time for the U20 World Championships to be played in Cali, Colombia from August 1 at the National Federation Cup Juniors Meet in Nadiad, Gujarat. But the heat didn’t allow her to perform at her best and she finished fourth in both the 100m and 200m races, failing to attain the qualification mark.
“But by the time I came here, I had acclimatised to the heat. Also, the blue track here is slightly faster than the red one and I was confident of a good showing here,” she said.
Sudeshna not only dominated the sprint events in Panchkula, her timings – 11.79 secs in 100m and 24.29 sec in 200m – were better than the qualification standard set by the Athletics Federation of India for the World U20 Championships.
She has now petitioned the AFI to consider her performance here for the World U20 selection and was hopeful that she would be on the flight to Cali next month.
And if that happens, Hanmant Shivankar would be glad he hadn’t stopped his child from running due to a measly asthma.