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Know Your Heros ft. Swapna Barman - Seven steps to success

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SportsCafe

Know Your Heros ft. Swapna Barman - Seven steps to success

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Subhayan Dutta

08/16/2018

From having six fingers on each foot to having to change her choice of sport mid-career, Swapna Barman has always had unusual challenges in her life. Add to it a strenuous childhood with financial restraints and one would be mesmerized by what the Bengal girl had to endure and still reach the top.

Born in Jalpaiguri in 1996, Swapna was into athletics very early on in her life. However, her focus has mostly been on high jump, with her regular coaches being the teachers in school and club, her father and brother.  But, her life was going to change.

“Earlier, I only participated in small competitions here and there. I used to mainly run and concentrate on high jump till then and it was like that for years until 2012, when I did good in School National Games, (I came 2nd or 3rd I forgot). My performance impressed my sir in SAI and he called me to train. I finally started training from 2013,” Swapna revealed in an interaction with SportsCafe.

Becoming a star in the Heptathlon was still nowhere in the picture. She was brought into the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre only for her good height and mainly to excel in high jump. But fortune had different plans for her and Swapna narrates it quite excitedly.

“Being a high jumper and junior back then, I didn’t have much training to do for the rest of the day after my regular morning training. So, I used to sit and observe others when they trained. They used to do hepta, one event after another. I started gradually doing little events with them. 

“The coaches observed this and realized that I (6ft) could run more than those who have been practicing for more days, throw the javelin farther than some of them, and he thought to give me a try. He called me one day and conveyed his idea to me. And we started training for Heptah in March 2013, and before I knew, I got selected in the Asian Games for my height.”

Heptathlon, as the name suggests, consists of seven events that every heptathlete has to compete in. It has 100m hurdles, high jump, shot out, 200m, long jump, javelin throw, and 800m. 

According to iaaf.org, Swapna’s personal bests stand at – 25.81s in 200m, 2:16:20s in 800m, 13.90s in 100m, 1.87m in high jump, 6.03 in long jump, 12.34m in shot put, 46.17m in javelin throw. As of June 29, 2018, Swapna sits in the 88th rank worldwide with 5725 points. 

A closer look at her progress over the years and one would quickly realize that the 22-year-old is on the verge of breaking into some top names on the international circuit. Her heptathlon score (outdoors), which was 4992 in 2013 has increased to 5725 now. Yes, she is well behind the first ranked mark of 6806, which is held by Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam, but it should also be taken into consideration that her career has been heavily marred by injuries so far.

Pain has been a constant ally for Swapna throughout her career. Since childhood, her unusual feet with six fingers was the reason she had to train with smaller shoes. In her 2014 interview with News 18, Swapna had described her plight and how she tried local manufacturers to get her custom-made shoes but they all turned out to be substandard.

“The grip was poor and the pressure points were all wrong. Normal shoes for five fingers have always been my enemy. Practicing during warm up has also been a huge problem, the palm shoes mainly was painful," recalls Swapna. 

Running has always been her biggest challenge especially the 800m event, where she had even collapsed last year during the Asian Championships in Bhubaneshwar and required medical attention. However, she ended up winning the gold medal regardless of that, because of her superior aggregate score (5942) in all the other events.

It was a back pain that she had first developed in 2014 while she was taking part in the Asian Games in Incheon, and it came back to haunt her later that year during the IAAF World Athletics Championships in London. After struggling to compete in London, where she managed to finish second last at the 26th position with a total of 5,431 points, Swapna had revealed that she had been struggling with the pain for the past three years. 

 © Getty Images

Though she could still manage to participate in the Asian Championships with proper training, the 100m event in London triggered it again. She had even contemplated pulling out of the competition, but being the nation’s biggest medal hope then and upon her coach’s insistence, the 20-year-old decided to continue. Consequently, it resulted in the girl from Siliguri seeing a steep dip of 15cm from her performance in Bhubaneshwar. After finishing with 1.86m in Asian Championships in High Jump, she could only manage 1.71m in London.

If that was the outcome of her strongest suit, one could easily make out the sheer mediocrity of the others. Swapna could only clear a distance of 10,81m in shot put, took 26.45 seconds to run 200m race in, covered 5.53m in long jump, threw the javelin to a distance of 43.49m and somehow managed to finish the 800m race in 2 minutes 20.17 seconds. Claiming that she would have overcome her personal best had she been fit, Swapna had then stated that she needed a long rest to get over the pain and that the 2018 Asiad was her next big target.

It was heavily covered by the media followed by a brief stint if silence. Hence, when asked about the same during the interview, Swapna put it to bed by one small line, “Yes, the injuries are okay at the moment. My focus next is the Asian Games.”

When asked to delve deeper into her practice sessions and training regime, Swapna gave a thin outline. “Practice is usually four hours in the morning, followed by rest and then two to three hours in the evening.”

Unlike London, where, Swapna revealed, the athletes found it difficult to adapt to the conditions, Jakarta is expected to have similar weather conditions and Swapna stated that the squad would leave for the competition on August 23.

Swapna’s long-term injury revelation following her collapse in London had led media to go to the crux of why a gold medalist at the Asian level was not getting enough money and facilities to tend to herself. And soon it was revealed that coming from a family that had always struggled to meet both ends, Swapna was bearing the cost of her bedridden father. A rickshaw puller by profession, her father has been bedridden following a stroke when Swapna was still young. Tending to her father, Swapna had to participate in small competitions here and there and consequently could never recover fully. Her coach had also revealed that her physical and mental strains had kept her from performing at the top level. 

However, fortunately, the GoSports Foundation has come to her help now and even ONGC, a public sector company, has also been giving her regular stipend. The recovery and getting back into fitness following the incident has led Swapna to miss the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games earlier this year. However, she sounded up and ready for the Asian Games, determined to improve her last result in Incheon, where she finished fifth with a score of 5178.

Life has also improved for her and it was reflected in the voice during the interview. She seemed excited about the future that is full of possibilities now. “My father is okay now. He’s willing to work but I have strictly asked him to take rest. I will take care of it,” said Swapna, with the last sentence giving us more hope than ever.

 © SportsCafe

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