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Rowing and rocking

other Updated: Nov 20, 2010 00:06 IST
Ajai Masand
Ajai Masand
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Two tiny, frail-looking girls from India on the podium with the giants from China and Kazakhstan, in an endurance sport like rowing, can only be a compulsive optimist's dream.

But at the International Rowing Centre, Pramila Prava Minz and Pratima Puhana, hailing from Orissa, stood tall alongside the gold and silver-medal winners from China and Kazakhstan respectively, trying to come to terms with their newly-acquired glory.

For Pramila, it has been a tough journey, one which saw her being ignored for the hockey nationals despite being a serious contender, and then overcoming physical shortcomings.

"In an endurance sport like rowing, I didn't stand much of a chance. But when I was ignored by my hockey coach, I made up my mind that I had to look to other sports. It was then that a rowing coach came to our school to scout for talent," says the daughter of a farmer, who can barely sustain a family of 11.

"I have eight brothers, four of them married now. But at one time, my father had a tough time bringing all of us up," she says with a tinge of sorrow. "How much can a farmer earn?"

"When the rowing coach came visiting at our Sundergarh School (near Rourkela), I was one of the three from a group of 15 who were short-listed. Out of the three, I was the one who went to the hostel. That time, I didn't even know a sport like rowing existed. But with a point to prove to my hockey coach, I gave it my best shot.

"In 2007, I participated in the national sub-juniors and in 2008 clinched gold in the fours event at the Hyderabad senior nationals. The same year, I won the junior Asian Championships gold in Hong Kong, and after two years of toil in Hyderabad, I have earned the biggest medal of my career," says Pramila.

Everyone, including her father, had lost hope that Pratima would become a sportsperson, given her short stature and frail looks. "My dad kept telling me to concentrate on studies. But my perseverance forced him to start encouraging me in sports," says Pratima.

"Being the smallest in the team (Pratima is barely five-feet tall, may be less), I had to work extra hard in all aspects. Before the Doha Asian Games, the selectors did not consider me because of my height. That left me devastated but equally determined. I cried all day, but my father told me not to lose heart. He has been a pillar of strength," says the girl who hails from Jagatpur in Cuttack.

"I will become a son for my dad and help him in his plotting business, because I can't go further in sports due to of my short stature," she says with a tinge of sadness.

On Friday, the two girls performed a Herculean task, showing that determination can move mountains.