A 50-kg scrap tyre fastened to a string tied around her waist, trails her in her unassailable circuit run around the uneven railway colony ground in Bharuch. But in the backdrop of trains running across the parallel tracks, Vaishnavi Vaghela (17) is focused as she counts her tenth circuit round of the ground. Cheena, as she is fondly called, has decided to not betray the opportunity that has come knocking at her doors, four years after she was discovered as the fastest runner in Gujarat in the 21-km category, at the age of 12 in 2010 with a timing of 1 hour and 56 minutes. She became the first athlete from the region to participate in the Delhi cross country race in the same year.
On November 22, this year, Vaishnavi’s stellar performance at the Delhi Marathon — where she bagged the fifth spot — earned her a selection into the month-long national athletics camp to be held in Bhopal from December 6 — Indian Elite Athletics Excellence Programme by the Sports Authority of India.
If she performs well, this camp could take her to Kenya for a training session with international athletes and there would be no looking back. Vaishnavi says the selection is a beacon of light that she is determined to follow. “I am preparing myself very hard for this selection. It is not only important for me but also for over 25 other children from my area who are looking up to me to set an example for them. I am confident I will do well,” she says.
Vaishnavi carries with her the hope of several children from the notorious Dubai Tekra and Lotwad Tekra area of Bharuch, that are known as the neighbourhoods of country liquor and drug peddlers, among other criminal activities — where the noise of abusive alcoholic husbands thrashing their wives for money to buy the country liquor or ‘potlis’ can drown any other conversation.
Vaishnavi’s struggle to create her identity has not been easy — her father, a daily wage labourer earns just Rs 200 a day if he finds work. But it is her mother Sharda, who has given her wings. “My mother is very happy about this selection. She has not been able to speak to me because she is choked,” Vaishnavi says.
Discovered by her mentor and coach Vitthal Shinde as a promising runner at the age of 10, running after kites along a sewage canal of one of the most notorious neighbourhoods in Bharuch, Vaishnavi can run up to 40 kilometres non-stop, without food or footwear and beat the best of athletes at that. Her medals and certificates from various taluka-, district- and state-level games are proof of her excellence. Armed with her letter of selection received from the Sports Authority of India, Vaishnavi left for Bhopal on Saturday, a tad bit nervous.
“This is the first time I will be on my own at a sports event. Although Vitthal sir will accompany me till Bhopal, I am mentally preparing myself to face the coaches and selectors on my own, reminding myself about the lessons I have learnt in Bharuch,” she says.
For Vaishnavi though, Mumbai Marathon is the next dream destination.
“The Mumbai Marathon will take place right after my return from the Bhopal camp. I will participate in the Mumbai Marathon this time as it has been my dream ever since I began running seven years ago.”