“Papa says I’ll be fine.” That is 18-year-old Poonam Chaturvedi’s absolute faith in what her parents and coach have been telling her. She repeats this line while talking about Chhattisgarh’s triumph over the ‘big didis’ of women’s basketball, Indian Railways, who were handed their first defeat in 12 years at the national championship last week.
The title victory was the high point of the basketball player’s last three months, otherwise spent dealing with long spells of an excruciating headache. Chaturvedi was diagnosed with “a mild form of” brain tumour, but she continued to train and play. “My father says it is curable and I am looking forward to returning to the sport fit and healthy,” she says.
During Chhattisgarh’s final match against Railways, the headache returned a few minutes after she took the court to play, though it eased a few minutes later. When another player went out on five fouls, Chaturvedi was eager to return to the court. She spent the last few minutes of the game guarding the rebounds, even as her team effected the biggest upset of the nationals.
“Sar dard kar raha tha, magar main daudti rahi. Achha laga, final jeetna (My head was aching but I kept running. It felt good to win the final match),” she says.
Her father, Shriram, is a constable with the Uttar Pradesh Police. The family is considering treatment either in Delhi or Bangalore.
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“We’ve found out that NIMHANS in Bangalore has a new radiation machine which will help treat the tumour located in the middle of her head,” says coach Rajesh Patel.
The Basketball Federation of India has promised to bear the medical expenses, and the Bhilai Steel Plant will chip in.
Though at 6 feet 11 inches, Chaturvedi is easily India’s tallest woman player, she has only come into her own this year, enjoying an astounding junior nationals earlier at Cuttack, where she tallied 323 points in seven matches, with a record high of 67 against Tamil Nadu.
“When I’m not in pain, basketball is my life. Otherwise it’s very bad,” she says, adding, “I wish it would get over and I could return to playing without fear.”