Swapna Barman on Wednesday created history as became the first Indian to win a gold in the heptathlon at Asian Games in Jakarta. The 21-YO Swapna became the first Indian to win the women’s all-round event at the Asian Games, a feat that traditionally would mark her the best woman athlete of the tournament. She produced the best performance of her career as she aggregated 6026 points from seven events spread over two days while competing with a taped chin due to a toothache.
When I learned about Swapna I started respecting her. She is really such a great sportsperson and so I am dedicating this post to the bravest sportsperson of this era. Jonathan Selvaraj writes in ESPN: How much pain is too much? At what point do you tap out of the fight? Never, if you are Swapna Barman.
Swapna runs in pain due to the fact that she was born with six toes, and no shoes really fit her. That means in endless competitions, Swapna has had to overlap the little finger of her toe on top of the next finger and squeeze in twelve toes inside shoes meant for ten toes. She has dealt with injuries to her knee, her ankle and even her fingers. There is a disc bulge in her back that causes her to gasp every time she flexes her spine. Her right hamstring has been clutching ever so often over the past couple of months. And now there was more pain – an excruciating toothache caused by an abscessed molar. So even her jaw was taped up
Swapna was born in Denguajhar near Jalpaiguri, West Bengal in 1996. Her mother Basana worked on a tea estate and her father, Panchanan Barman, was a rickshaw driver. and is bed-ridden after having suffered a stroke in 2013. She found it difficult to find the right and her unusual feet caused her pain because she could not afford extra wide running shoes. Swapna uses her prize money to look after her family who lives in a house without a concrete wall. In 2016 she won a scholarship of 150,000 rupees ($2,143) in recognition of the success she had at athletics. 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.
She was first spotted as a high jumper by a student of a Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach at a regional school meet. The coach Subhash Sarkar then saw her compete and she was inducted into the SAI Kolkata hostel in 2013 after she had won the gold in a national inter-school meet. Sarkar asked her to move to the SAI hostel in Kolkata. He didn’t have high hopes from her at first. Sarkar advised her to shift from the high jump to the women’s heptathlon, a decision that only promised further agony.
In less than a year in the heptathlon, she became the youngest competitor in the heptathlon field at the 2014 Asian Games. Unlike other athletes who competed with five or six pairs of shoes for each event in the heptathlon, Swapna carried two pairs that lasted throughout the Incheon games and finished fifth. She was only 17!
In 2016, Swapna was diagnosed with a disc bulge on her back. Doctors said that her back was not flexible enough to take the stress she put it under. Still, Swapna continued to work. Signed on by the GoSports Foundation in mid-2015, she now had physios and spine specialists working with her to manage those injuries, before further issues came up in her knee and hamstring in June this year. There was no question of walking away from the Asian Games, though. Swapna drew additional motivation from the fact that her father suffered a stroke in 2013. It meant someone else – besides a brother who cuts wood – had to provide for the family, a responsibility Swapna decided to take up. It is a pain tolerance that only victory provides.
I bow to this young woman a hundred times in respect. Her struggle is an inspiration to everyone. She is the real heroine of India. Mother India is proud to have Swapna as her daughter. Salute!