On Wednesday, when residents of Varanasi flocked at Ganga ghats to witness the total solar eclipse, an Anganwari supervisor went about her daily routine with steely determination at Sigra Stadium.
No, 35-year-old Neelu Mishra, mother of a 12-year-old son Akash, wasn't trying to get back in shape. Instead, the bubbly lady, who in 1994 was fourth fastest girl in India, was raring to become fastest mom in the world.
At an age, when professional athletes don the role of a coach, wife of Merchant Navy Engineer Anand Dubey, will make her international debut at 18th World Masters Athletic Championship in Lahti (Finland) on July 30.
Neelu, along with Pramod Kumar Mishra (Kanpur) is part of Indian contingent for Finland that will host 5,000-plus athletes from 80 nations. She will compete in three events, 100 m dash, 4x100 m relay and High Jump.
"I know it's difficult to debut internationally and excel at highest level in the global arena in first appearance. But hard work and recent performances at state and national masters level, which are at par with Asian masters champions, make be believe I have a fair chance of winning a medal in Finland," Neelu said confidently.
She clocked 14 seconds to come second in 100 m dash and successfully leaped across a height of1.20 metres to win High Jump at National Masters Meet at Hissar in March 2009. She was at par with High Jump winner at last Asian Masters Championship at Bangkok and performed better than silver medal winner in 100 m.
"If I don't end up at the podium, I'll certainly be among top six and the Finland tourney in that case will be an ideal exposure for me to achieve my ultimate target of winning the gold at Asian Masters in Malaysia in July 2010," she said enthusiastically.
Unlike other Finland-bound athletes, story behind Neelu's flight to Finland, is bound to inspire athletes aspiring to make it big internationally.
Neelu staged a comeback to athletic arena, 15 years after she left it, but only after conquering the pain of acute renal infection and heart problem.
"In 2002, I suffered an acute infection in kidney, which sparked abundance of a fluid inside my body, subsequently leading to problem in the heart too. Doctors, including cardiologist Dr PR Sinha, feared my life was in grave danger and prolonged intake of antibiotics turned me into a veritable vegetable. I wasn't able to walk even a few steps," Neelu recounted.
"With agony and pain being part and parcel of my life, inspired by my cricket crazy son Akash, I took to athletic arena again in November 2008, but was unable to walk even a single round of the stadium. Emboldened by my coach Ram Avadh Yadav, I kept going and finally with training of few months not only lost 12 kgs, but also returned to track in February 2009 with the District Masters Meet, winning in my pet events 100m dash and the High Jump. And then followed the success at State Masters Meet in Lucknow and National Masters Meet at Hissar (Haryana)," Neelu said.
"Based on my timings at Hissar, I was selected for World Meet at Finland, a dream I harboured in 1994."
Holder of UP Inter-Varsity record of 12 seconds in 100m, which till date remains intact in 100 m, Neelu stood fourth in 100 and 200 m dash at senior nationals at Patiala in 1994 and was selected for National Camp. But the flight to big time athletic stage of this girl from Basti district of East UP was cut short due to her marriage in Varanasi.