From a non-descript Chakapada village in Banki, Hari Behera has come a long way. The 22- year-old shot put and discus thrower is looked upon as an example for many young sportspersons. For the records that he broke and created, Hari is today counted among the best in the track and field events.
But things weren't the same when he started seven years back. Hari had no knowledge about the game and like many athletes in the country, he too had his share of struggles. Belonging to a farmer's family, he was a school dropout but sports interested him since childhood.
"I was never a good student and used to run away from class every time. My parents would find me in the village playground all the time. I used to play volleyball, kho kho, kabaddi but it never occurred to me that I can be an athlete'', he recalls.
When he failed the matriculation examination, Hari shifted to his uncle's house in Bhubaneswar in 2008. To eke out a living, he joined a private firm as an attendant. "Since I was well built, the seniors in our office asked me once to lift a two-wheeler at least one feet above the ground. I accepted the challenge and lifted the motorcycle two feet in the air and
held on for few minutes," says Hari, who was 15 then. His seniors suggested him to join sports.
His brush with the track and field events was in 2012 when while watching the Olympics on television. Shot put and discus throw events interested him.
"The next day I went to a sports shop near Kalinga Stadium to see what the metal ball was. I wanted to learn shot put and visited the stadium regularly to see how the metal ball is thrown and understand the technique. One day at a corner of the stadium ground, I saw some athletes practising shot put and discus throw. Guiding them was Malaya Ranjan Pati, a hammer thrower", recalls Hari, who approached Malaya to coach him.
Malaya not only trained him in the shot put and discus throw but also convinced him that education was as important as sports. Almost five years after failing the matriculation examination, he appeared the supplementary test in 2013 and cleared it.
Today, he is pursuing graduation from Chitalo Mahavidyalaya Biraja Khetra in Jajpur. It was also his coach who provided him shoes and equipment for training. "I did not know that throwing events need special shoes". Realising that he could not afford one, Hari's employer Rajesh Rao Choudhury presented him a pair of shoes that he bought from the US.
In 2015, he participated in the 63rd State Athletics Meet in the junior category of both shot put and discus throw and touched 14.17 metres (m) and 51.64 m respectively. In fact, he bagged a double by winning both the shot put and discus titles by setting new records in Boys-20 category.
There has been no looking back since then. Hari went on to win a silver medal in men's discus event at the 65th Odisha State Athletics Championship in 2017. And his memorable win so far? The 64th State Athletic Meet in 2016, he says. "This was the first time I was participating in a senior men’s shot put event", says Hari, who hurled the iron ball at a distance of 14.33 metre, smashing the 46-year old game record of 14.20 m set by Hari Biswal in 1972.
He bagged a gold medal then. Again, Hari broke men's shot put meet record with a throw of 15.07 m at Odisha State Athletics Championship-2018 in Cuttack. At the zonal level, he bagged a double by winning one gold medal each in Boys-20 shot put (15.66 m) and discuss (44.02 m) events at the 28th East Zone Junior Athletics Championship that was held in Guwahati in 2016.
His target now is to touch 21-metre mark in shot put and 58 metre in discus throw in the athletic meets before 2021 so that he can create a national record and get a chance to join the national camp. And to achieve, he has already started intensive training. But a protein-rich diet, which is equally important for training, is something that he cannot afford.
Two months before each competition he faces, Hari maintains a daily diet of 15 eggs, 250 grams of chicken, at least 50 grams of dry fruits and a few grams of protein supplements that cost him Rs 25,000 a month. "Friends and supporters helped me out for two months but in order to maintain the energy, I need a protein-rich diet every day", says Hari.