Name: Anu Rani, 22
When a young Anu Rani showed a strong arm while throwing the ball from the boundary during a cricket game with family members, a thought crossed her brother Upendra’s mind. A long-distance runner, the brother thought of placing a javelin in his sister’s hand. However, there was a potential problem. Women in their village, Bahadurpur, a few kilometers from Meerut, were always behind a veil and for Anu to pursue a sports career she would have to wear tracksuit. Upendra, disregarding the societal pressure, started training Anu by asking her to hurl sugarcane stalks in empty fields.
Seeing his young daughter getting serious about sports, Amar Pal Singh, the patriarch of a conservative family, started getting worried about wagging tongues. “The school in Dabathwa was 2 kilometers away and Anu would walk up and down twice a day. She would return home after school hours at noon, have lunch and then head back to school in a couple of hours for training. She would walk 8 kilometers a day,” Upender says. “When she was in middle school she could throw a distance of 25 metres. She was a strong girl but she needed a coach who could finetune her technique,” Upender recalls.
Anu’s steady progress at the junior level resulted in a change of heart for her father, who started accompanying her to state meets. Her performances caught the eye of athlete-turned-coach Kashinath Naik, a bronze medal winner in javelin at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
“I wanted to take her under my wings but that would mean she would have to be away from home. I managed to convince her brother but had to travel to Bahadurpur to talk to her father and tell him that his daughter would be in safe hands,” Kashinath says.
Anu achieved her personal best of 59.53 metres to win bronze at the Incheon Asiad. “When I returned to Bahadurpur the whole village welcomed me. My coach and I were felicitated and my family was proud,” Anu, who has returned to training at the National Institute of Sport in Patiala, said.
Since taking the road forbidden for girls from Bahadurpur, Anu has become an inspiration of sorts. “I am the first woman athlete of any standing from my native place. After watching me train, a number of girls and even boys have turned to athletics and train at the school in Dabathwa. I am happy to have become a torchbearer.”