In the relatively modest district of Jagpur, Odisha, lies a woman weaving a basket. She rises early, much before the rest of her family, and weaves until late in the day, in order to provide the bare necessities for survival. She traverses the short distance to the market under the sweltering sun, hoping to flog her wares so that she can return in time to prepare dinner for the children. At night, she prepares for the next day of weaving, resigned to her fate, her uncertain existence.
This could have been the story of Dutee Chand, India’s national record-holding sprinter, the dispeller of age-old perceptions of love, the brave woman who chose to validate herself rather than conform to the ignorance of those around her, had she chosen to accept the reality she was born into.
It was not to be, however, with the unflinching faith she gifted herself paving the pathway to glory.
In 2013, she won a bronze medal at the Asian Athletics Championship 200m event and claimed the honor of being the first Indian woman to reach a final of a global event, when she did so in the World Youth Championship later that year.
Disaster often strikes in the unlikeliest of places: Dutee was disqualified from participating in the 2014 Commonwealth Games by the Athletic Federation of India, due to an excess of a chemical called androgen, which is said to bestow an advantage on its recipient while competing in physical activities.
It is times like these that act as a sieve, sifting out the unnecessary inhibitions and limitations imposed by oneself, revealing the true character of strength, the ability to abstain from doubt and purely focus on the positive, the rational voice propelling forth the force which enables a transformation.
This is what Dutee Chand chose to see, after losing out on an international event that would have brought her fame, the easy way out would have been to accept the circumstance, but she rose to change it in whatever way possible.
An athlete’s career often may not be an upward sloping graph; there are often those days that one would like to forget. True character is highlighted when one must deal with situations that put their mental strength into question. At times like these, maintaining confidence and going about your daily life is ‘perseverance’ in its truest form.
With assistance from a reputed law firm, and a great amount of determination, she was able to overrule the judgement passed, citing a lack of evidence of the advantage gained from possessing a higher level of testosterone, and returned with a bang, setting the national record at the 2016 Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in 60m, going on to win the bronze in the final event.
In May 2019, Dutee revealed that she had found her soul-mate, a girl from her hometown of Jagpur itself. In the current climate where openly discussing one’s sexual preference could only cause controversy, she chose to brave the onslaught of torment and exile, rather than court secrecy, in true champion fashion.
Mental trauma, that silent killer of dreams, once again knocked on the doorstep of Dutee Chand, and was once again not allowed to enter.
The ability to persevere in situations which might often to lead to frustration is a character only a few athletes possess. They are the true winner of their sport, not because they were first in the race, but because they, despite the setbacks, have been able to cross the finish line.
The future may hold a multitude of challenges, but we know they will be dealt with power, with the knowledge that everything is temporary, and that success always depends on one’s mental framework and the ability to persevere.