AHMEDABAD: Rajina Kiro can well be termed as a National Games veteran as she has won 14 medals including 9 gold at the event so far since the 2007 edition. After winning K1 500m gold and K2 500m bronze on Monday, she will compete in the K1 200m race on Tuesday. Given her show at each Games, she is a favourite to finish on the podium.
More importantly, Rajina had won five gold out of six events she had competed in at the previous edition in Kerala with the only blot, if only that can be said, being her second-placed finish in K1 1000m race.
But it's not easy being Rajina, who hails from Port Blair of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Rajina was only 13 when she was selected by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre at the islands to pursue kayaking. She won her first gold at the sub-junior national in 2000-2001. As she was honing her skills in the sport, crocodiles literally encroached upon the islands including the creeks and beaches post-Tsunami in 2004.
While it restricted their training all these years, it was also one of the reasons why she couldn't train for more than two years since the Covid-19 enforced lockdown in March 2020. "We started training only in July as the boat house was closed. Even if I wish to train alone, I cannot do that as a safety boat is a necessity with crocodiles infesting water. We know the places where they usually are so we pass that portion in a group. So basically, we train in a group for safety purposes and to prevent attack by crocodiles," Rajina told this daily after winning two medals at the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad.
Srimati Bishnoi, the A&N coach, also echoed the sentiments. Srimati was part of the K4 team which also included Rajina that won silver in 2007 Games. "We get boats only if we have a safety boat. We frequently encounter crocodiles and the frequency increases when the water level is low. If we are in a group, then they do not attack us. Fortunately, it (attack) has never happened," the coach said.
The 38-year-old Rajina is a sub-inspector with A&N police and was busy discharging her duties with the department during the Covid times. "The sporting activities were stopped during the Covid outbreak. The last I played was in January 2020 in the nationals where I bagged three gold and one silver. After that my primary role was looking after our people on islands. Every government employee got busy during this period."
Despite not being able to train, she made sure that she stays fit during these two years. "I do yoga and physical exercises like running regularly. I always wanted to compete and that's why I focussed on core exercises to stay fit." Once the National Games were announced, she started training in July. The nationals in August meant she got a tournament ahead of the Games. "At the Uttarakhand nationals, I won 2 gold and 2 silver. I won gold in the K2 500m and 200m and silver in the K1 500m and 200m."
Her father had moved to the islands from Jharkhand as he got a job with the forest department there. Apart from winning over 100 medals at the national events, Rajina had also clinched K4 500m bronze at the Asian Championships. She hopes Indian athletes qualify for Olympics as only sprint distance events offer 12 medals while the slalom events have 4 medals.
"I still cherish my bronze at the Asian Championships. International medals are different and winning an Olympic medal is a dream for any athlete. When we started, we hardly got any facilities but now the Indian Kayaking and Canoeing Association (IKCA) is promoting the sport by organising events and providing facilities in every state. Even the SAI and various state governments are providing infrastructure and buying foreign boats. I hope we also start winning medals at the Olympics with such support," she added.
She won the K2 bronze partnering Sandhya Kispotta. They are neighbours and have been competing together for years now. Even Sandhya resumed kayaking a couple of months back. "First Covid and then birth of my child meant I couldn't train for two years. My child turned one recently. My child is with me only here in Ahmedabad. My husband takes care of the child when I am training or competing," said Sandhya.
Even if Rajina finishes on the podium on Tuesday, she doesn't want the medal to be her last at the event as she aspires to compete in the next National Games. "I will compete in the next edition that's for sure. After that I will assess my future. This sport has given me everything so I cannot stay away from it. I will keep serving it in some or other way," Rajina signed off.