Swapna Barman did the seemingly impossible in Bhubhaneshwar during the Asian Athletics Championships as she won gold in the heptathlon event by scoring a total of 5942 points and subsequently quashing all concerns that she would even be able to make it to the event.
The 21-year-old has a long history of injuries, with her ankle and back problems plaguing the young athlete for much of her fledging career. In this context, it is quite remarkable that she was able to not only compete but also win gold for her country.
Swapna comes from a humble background, born in the Jalpaiguri region of North Bengal and is born with twelve toes on her feet. The condition has been further aggravated over time with her urge to succeed in the field of athletics but her undying passion and grit wills her on despite the struggle.
The talented youngster has had to deal with one hardship after another and with her rare condition, finding a pair of fitting shoes is one of the hardest. She is forced to wear regular shoes, which fit ten toes. Due to her financial situation and lack of a permanent job, she cannot get customized shoes made by top international brands.
In a 2014 interview with News18, Swapna reveals "We did try some local manufacturers but those were really substandard. The grip was poor and the pressure points were all wrong."
She was introduced to the world of heptathlon only a few years ago after her coach saw that she could take on several tasks at the same time and perform exceptionally in track and field events. A solid performance at the Youth Nationals in 2014 egged her on and very soon, she became a complete heptathlete.
Poor financial condition back home
However, like so many other Indian athletes, she suffers from great financial constraints, which hamper her growth. Despite the injury concerns, she is forced to take part in minor tournaments across the nation so that she can fund her training and support her family.
Even today, despite all her numerous victories, her house does not have a concrete wall. Also, her father has been unwell for quite a long time and according to her coach, she is unable to shake off her injuries because of the stress – both physical and mental.
All the money earned by her from her victories, she uses to lessen the burden at home. After her historic win in Bhubaneshwar, she has vowed to use all her prize money and earnings to send back home and finally get the wall built around her house.
She wants a good life for her family and she says it motivates her to perform better in the sport. And even after qualifying for the World Championships next month, her primary concern remains to get a stable job and support her family. “Unless I get a solid job, I might not be able to continue running,” she said.
However, there is a glimmer of hope for her – the Go Sports Foundation has offered to help her ease her financial woes and ONGC, the public sector company, will pay her a regular stipend. Hopefully, this should help Swapna immensely and enable her to put her best foot forward as she gets set to represent the nation in London.
The extraordinary strength and fortitude displayed by the youngster are truly incredible and here’s hoping she continues to win medals for the nation at future events and make the nation proud.