From poverty to the podium, the amazing story of Anjana Thamke

Ayush Roy
Modified 28 Aug 2013
Photo courtesy Anglian Medal Hunt

Photo courtesy Anglian Medal Hunt

Every now and then a story of an underdog’s triumph emerges that stands out from all others; a story that deserves special recognition. Anjana Thamke’s journey from obscurity to accomplishment is one such story.

Amidst the flak that India has received for its handling of athletes at the Asian Youth Games, Thamke’s story is a much-needed fillip, a ray of hope amidst the shambles that is Indian athletics.

Blitzing the field in a rare act of Indian dominance in an international athletics event, Thamke, an athlete sponsored by Anglian Medal Hunt, finished her 800 metres finals in Nanjing, China a whole three seconds ahead of her closest competitor, Jogindr Savinder Kaur from Malaysia, to walk away with gold. With it, she gained the satisfaction of having fulfilled a promise that she made to her parents when she convinced them to let her pursue a career in running.

Thousands of miles away celebrations ensued at the Thamke household, with Anjana’s parents and brother rejoicing yet another achievement for the 16-year-old runner. Despite their surroundings paling in comparison to the atmosphere that Anjana was enjoying in China, they were just as happy in their mud house in the remote village of Ganeshgaon, located 50 kilometres from Nashik.

“We have been desperately trying to contact her,” said Dhavlu, her father, who neither has access to the internet, nor a stable television connection. “However, we can’t get through. We got the result on TV and since then the entire village is rejoicing. I can’t explain how happy I am.”

Astounding as it is that Anjana Thamke reached the summit just two years after starting her formal training, she would testify that she has never been a stranger to running long distances. After all, hailing from a poverty-stricken slum region, she had no option but to jog over steep hillocks for six difficult kilometres in order to get to her school every morning.

It was at a district meet in 2011 that her talent was first caught sight of by noted SAI coach Vijender Singh, who was convinced of her ability to shine on a bigger level. Running barefoot, Thamke eased to victory, leading Singh, who has already coached the likes of Kavita Raut and Monika Athre, to suggest, “She just needed guidance to move in the right direction.”

Understandably, convincing her apprehensive parents who, given the family’s economic strife could have done with an extra breadwinner, was a tough task.

“Vijender sir came to Nasik and persuaded my parents, who were quite apprehensive in the beginning. They wanted me to stay at home and do some work,” Thamke said.

Once they came around, Anjana was desperate to prove to her family that they had made the right decision in letting her follow her dream. However, not even she could have predicted the trajectory of the success that she enjoyed in the days to come, as she started blossoming into a star soon afterwards.

On her trailblazing run, she set a new meet record in the 600 metres category of the National School Games, with that success coming close on the heels of another impressive performance at the 2011 National Junior Athletics Championships, where her timing of 1:31:23s fell just one second short of the world record.

She also picked up golds in the 400m, 800m and 1500m categories of the Inter-Zonal National Athletics meet, and now with a dominating gold medal performance at the Asian Youth Games, has elevated herself as one of India’s brightest hopes for a medal in future Olympics.

“She has always looked at Kavita (Raut) as her role-model. Like Kavita, she will definitely represent India in the Olympics,” said her coach last year.

Anjana’s red Tata Nano, which she won at the school Nationals earlier this year for coming first in the 800 metres and setting the national record, is also an indication that a career in athletics will be an economically viable option for her and her family.

This is the video by Marathi channel Zee24Taas on Anjana winning the Nano:

Her Youth Games gold is only one step towards the commitment she made to her struggling family. However, with time on her hands and a massive drive to succeed, Anjana Thamke is a name that Indians might start hearing a lot in the years to come.

Inputs courtesy Indian Express.

Published 25 Aug 2013
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