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On a runaway stride

New state record holder in 200m Ayesha Billimoria hopes to clock faster timings.

Written by Kabir Mandrekar | Mumbai |
December 8, 2011 6:30:21 am

It was in 2003,that a slight,typically fair-skinned Parsi girl – 16-years-old at the time – was anxiously shaking off her nerves before taking her mark for the 200 meter race in her first ever National level tournament in Patiala. As Ayesha Billimoria placed her foot on the starting block and crouched into position,the race was halted by one of the officials who singled her out of the line-up. To her disbelief,she was about to be disqualified on the grounds of being a foreigner. That was until,her mother was able to fish out her birth certificate from her stack of documents that she was carrying along.

“That was quite a unique start to my career at the national level. But I was in the nascent stages of my career then. Over the years,after having trained a lot I have tanned considerably and have done well enough for the officials to prevent the repetition of that mistake,” says the 24-year-old athlete from Mumbai.

She even inscribed her name in the record books after she won the state-meet held last month,with a time of 25.8 seconds and has already established herself as Maharashtra’s number one athlete in the 100 meter,200 meter and 400 meter category.

The singling-out didn’t,however,stop at the Patiala Nationals. Whether it was the synthetic track at Priyadarshani Park or the one at Balewadi in Pune,the journey has been a lonely one for Billimoria. She started her competitive career at the age of 13 and achieved many laurels at the local and district level. When she became serious about the sport,she shifted to the more permanent and well-equipped facilities of the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports City in Balewadi. Her distinct features and cultural differences separated her from the rest and the local coaches preferred to distance themselves from her. “I had a few bad experiences with the coaches there so we just went our separate ways and I trained on my own,” she says. She managed to shrug off the boredom that accompanied the lonliness and attained a substantial amount of success in the form of a gold medal in the All India ICSE school nationals and a bronze at the Open National Meet.

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When she was at her peak in 2006,disaster struck. She was in a car accident where the car rammed into the left-side of her body and she was left bed-ridden for three months with a tail bone fracture being the worst of her injuries. Even after she made a full recovery,the previous injury caused substantial nerve damage which resulted in temporary numbness of the leg while running. “Most of the Indian coaches wanted me to quit and rubbished my ambition of being a successful short distance runner just because I was Indian,” she adds. When the locals offered no encouragement,it was a chance meeting with a foreigner that changed her fortunes. While Billimoria was working part-time as an instructor at QI Gym,she met former Indian Cricket physiotherapist – John Gloster – who agreed to help her out with her recovery. Billimoria trained with renewed gusto and when Gloster was busy with other assignments,he put her on to Gavin Fernandes,a trained physiotherapist from Australia just like him. “The regime that Gloster set for me helped me immensely. Gavin (Fernandes) called me for a stint to Australia and thoroughly examined my technique. He is my coach and always monitors my progress even from Australia,” she says. While in Australia,Billimoria studied a few sports massage techniques under Fernandes’s guidance and now uses her expertise as a side business to support her athletic training financially. While Billimoria ran towards the finish line of the 200m event during the state-meet,she stretched every sinew,pushed hard and gave that extra bit of effort on her way to breaking the record by a whole second.

It is with this same determination that she would like to be an Olympian one-day. Her focus for now remains on representing her country.

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