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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Dear me: All sacrifices will seem justified once you make history

Long jumper Anju Bobby George, only Indian to win a medal at the World Athletics Championship, writes to her younger self that training every day while others play in paddy fields will stand in good stead

other-sports Updated: Aug 11, 2017 16:32 IST
Anju Bobby George
Anju Bobby George
Anju Bobby George won bronze medal in long jump at the 2003 World Championships in Athletics in Paris
Anju Bobby George won bronze medal in long jump at the 2003 World Championships in Athletics in Paris(Illustration: Malay Karmakar)

Dear 13-year-old Anju,

Surely there are times when you wonder why your father doesn’t let you play with other teens on the paddy fields? Why he is keen to make you run the 25-metre or 50-metre races in the district competition?

I know it hurts watching children go for a swim or frolick in the mud and not be able to join them. But ‘sacrifices’ at an age when girls just want to have fun will pay dividends. Of the kind nobody in India would have imagined. And it won’t end with missing out on the joys of growing up, of just being a teenager.

READ | Anju Bobby George wants Indian athletes to make mark at Olympics

Your parents have a plan because they can see what you can’t yet: potential for being great, an athlete who would make India proud. One who will make the suburb of Cheeranchira glow on the world map. Years after you are done, people will say ‘wow, this is where Anju was born!’

So, off to the hostel in Kottayam where you will meet sports teacher KP Thomas. It will be three hours from home and I know it won’t be easy for a young girl to live down feelings of being uprooted. The school is in a forest and that could have exacerbated the longing for home but for the Thomases. They will be a family that does its utmost to make you comfortable.

Slowly, it will start to seem worth it. Anju, there can’t be a better feeling than winning and after only a few weeks of training, you will be the best in state and national school competitions in the 100m hurdles, long jump and high jump.

READ | Anju Bobby George accuses Kerala minister of insulting her

In Kerala, your home state, schools are a breeding ground for athletes. And you will start getting noticed. Yes, the facilities will not be great but that is a challenge most Indian sportspersons would face in the Noughties too, perhaps even now. It is just one of the reasons why your father always exhorted you to never give up.

And I know, you won’t give up. At 19, you will bag the long jump gold at the Asian juniors in New Delhi. From Cheeranchira to being a best Asian junior is a long road but for you the journey will have just begun. In 2002, you will win a bronze in the long jump in the Commonwealth Games. The same year, you, the girl who hated not being allowed to play with friends at home, will win gold at the 2002 Asian Games.

It would have been enough for many especially in India where athletics isn’t very popular. But you are destined to fly. Yes, getting funds allocated for training for the 2003 world championships will be a problem. It will cost you two months of preparation. But you will make history in Paris when you soar to 6.70m and be the first Indian to win a world championship medal.

READ | Must plan at least 12 years ahead for good medal haul: Anju Bobby George

At the Olympics in Athens next year, great expectations will be riding on you. And though a podium finish will elude you, you will again go where no Indian has. Your leap of 6.83m will remain a national record, an Indian gold standard, even in 2017. Between 2001 to 2003, you will soar up the world rankings, moving from 61 to 6. You will achieve a best of being world No.4. Everything that your father made you do as a child will seem worth it then.

You will be among the world best 10 long-jumpers for nearly three years. No Indian athlete has been this consistent. By then, Bobby would have come into your life. He will be the coach and the husband who staked his all to ensure you maximise potential. A podium finish will be narrowly missed in the 2005 world championships but trust you to produce your season’s best there. In that year, an Asian athletics gold will be followed by a first-place finish in the IAAF World Athletics final. And the world would know where Cheeranchira is.

Loads of love

Anju Bobby George

(As told to Navneet Singh)

First Published: Jul 28, 2017 21:53 IST