CHENNAI: The innocence of childhood is laced in Hima Das’ words. The teenager is still living a dream and knows nothing beyond running, a passion she has acquired over the last couple of years. Before that, she used to play football with boys in a nondescript village on the banks of the Brahmaputra called Dhing in Assam’s Nagaon district. Floods ravage it, and now it’s seeing a sudden surge of media. “I never thought that my medal was such a big deal,” she tells The New Indian Express from Tampere, Finland, a day after her stunning victory in the women’s 400m at the IAAF World U-20 Championships. “The whole nation is talking about it and I had no clue. It is such an honour.”
Hima’s achievements are even more remarkable considering her origin story. Her childhood struggles are fodder for heart-melting stories but it is not something she would like to revisit. She doesn’t want to conjure up images of her daily life in Dhing now. She wants to divorce the past and look ahead to the future.
“The one thing that I don’t want to speak about is my past right now,” she said. “Everybody has difficulties in life. But if you have to win something for the country, you have to struggle. I don’t care how my past was or what I had to go through. Forget the past and ask me what’s next.”
A few may mistake those quotes for being bitter about her roots but she is just being herself. The story of why a few strands of her hair are blonde explains this better. Hima, whose first breakout performance was at the Commonwealth Games, where she finished sixth, has always had a burning desire to stand out. That brought colour to her hair during a junior event in Bangkok last year.
Medals, the only currency that matters to most athletes on the planet, are not what she is after. She just wants to run. Run more. Run better. “I’m not going to run after medals. I’m going to run after my timing (try and better it). I need to work on that and then the medals will follow. Gold, silver, diamond, whatever...”
A rise that began from Kovai
Chennai: Coimbatore in the winter months is unlike any other city in Tamil Nadu. There is a wintry chill in the air, dead leaves cover the streets and tourists use it as a base to visit Ooty. Quarter-miler Hima Das used Coimbatore for an entirely different purpose. She used it as a launchpad to announce herself.
The 18-year-old had already swapped studs for spikes but she was still an unknown.
Coach Nipon Das and Nabajit Malakar, who saw her at the Junior National Championships there, decided that she had the desirable tools to become a proper athlete. Nipon made one request to her father, Ronjit Das, a marginal rice farmer. Nipon and Malakar, another coach who played an important role, were keen to take the then 16-year-old to the Sarusajai Sports Complex in Guwahati. Ronjit readily agreed to the request. In return, he asked the two coaches one thing — whether they would be able to feed her well.
It’s obvious that Hima has travelled a long way — both literally and metaphorically — since advancing to the final of the 100m event at Coimbatore: getting her first proper spikes last year, seeing and training on proper synthetic tracks, medalling at national level events, qualifying for international events and running in front of 30000 people.
All of that in the space of under two years can be a bit overwhelming for any young athlete coming from a challenging background but the Assam girl remains unfazed. As soon as she took the tape in Tampere at about 10.43 pm IST, social media went into overdrive.
Stalin greets runner Hima Das
Chennai: DMK working president MK Stalin on Friday greeted runner Hima Das for her historic achievement. “Heartiest congratulations to the young sprinter Hima Das for this pathbreaking achievement of being first Indian to win IAAF world championship under-20 event,” he tweeted. He also wished her every success in life.