RIO DE JANEIRO:Not even in her wildest dreams did Nirmala Sheoran think she would be in the Olympics. Until recently, she did not even know what a synthetic track was. Her father owns a tract of land that is just enough to support his family of five children. Hailing from an obscure village called Chehad Khurd in Bhiwani, Haryana, she and her family were mocked by villagers. The reason? A girl was pursuing a vocation considered suitable for boys — athletics. In Haryana, girls are not encouraged to take up sport as a profession.
“It was not easy,” says the 21-year-old, here at the Games Village. “I loved to run but there was no one in my village who would understand what I was doing.” Despite facing numerous challenges, the quarter-miler never lost hope. It kept her afloat and after years of toil, here she is at the Olympics, all because of her father and family.
“My family always supported me,” Nirmala says. The thought of her family brings a smile to her face. Despite all the mocking and ridicule, she did not give up. “I never knew what a synthetic track was, until a few months ago. I always ran on a dirt track or on uneven village fields. I needed money but there was no money. My family could barely afford to sustain us.” PT Usha is her idol.
That forced her father Suresh Sheoran to borrow money from villagers. “He is in serious debt,” said Niramala. She does not know the exact figure but it is around `5-6 lakh. There is remorse in her voice when she recollects being forced to change college due to paucity of money. “Kya karein! yehi zindagi hai (what to do! that’s life).”
One thing that torments her is that people in India remember their athletes once in four years. “It’s only during Olympics that they know us. I don’t think anyone will recognise me later. This will last for a few days and after that, I will be forgotten.” But things are better now in her village after she qualified. “The Haryana government has promised to help me financially. If they give me around `15 lakh, I will help my father erase his debt.”
To add to her woes, her coach Vijender Singh was not cleared by the Indian Olympic Association. She had to skip practice here because there was no one who knew her training schedule. That’s the story of perhaps any Indian athlete. She qualified last, so the TOP Scheme wasn’t of much use either. She clocked 51.48s in 400m during the Inter-state Senior Athletics Championship, just a month before the Games. The Asian Games gold medallist (Kemi Adekoya of Bahrain) clocked 51.59s in Incheon. She may or may not win a medal, but that she reached this stage is, in itself, a miracle.