She has literally carved out her niche in Indian sporting history! Born in a family of carpenters, not many back home in Manipur would have predicted that Yumnam Sanathoi Devi would one day receive the nation’s top sporting honour. But then, defying expectations is the norm for the 26-year-old who netted a bronze in Wushu at the Incheon Asian Games.
For starters, not many thought she would even be able to board the flight to Incheon. “Just over a month before the Games, I started experiencing pain in my back. We carried out some tests and detected kidney stones. Initially, I tried to manage using medication but it proved impossible. I had to go for surgery and that led me to miss a significant amount of practice. But somehow, I made the flight to Incheon,” she says. And she did a lot better than just board the flight. After prevailing over Uzbekistan’s Kamalova Mubarak and Mongolia’s Angidorj Amgalanjargalm, she lost in the semifinals to China’s Zhang Luan.
The Asiad medal is not her first — she won silver medals in the 2011 and 2013 World Championships — and Sanathoi believes more must be done to promote Wushu in the country, especially with the sport shortlisted for the 2020 Olympics. “Right now, we don’t have foreign coaches and exposure trips are rare. Wushu can be a regular source of medals at both the Olympics and Asian Games,” says the Imphal native who made her international debut at the tender age of 15 in 2005.
So what changes will an Arjuna bring? A better standard of life for her family, hopes Sanathoi. “I work as constable in Manipur police and am the sole breadwinner for my family. After my medal at the Asian Games, I had applied for a promotion. Nothing though has come through thus far. But the Manipur police have a rule whereby all Arjuna awardees will be promoted to the rank of sub-inspector. So I hope I will get promoted now,” she says.