Three athletes from the remote villages of Satara will be travelling to the US for two weeks in September, under an Athlete Exchange Programme. The girls — Vaishnavi Sawant (15), Poonam Kalel (15) and Reshma Kewate (19) — will be trained at the Lake Braddock High School. While Vaishnavi is from village Pulkoti and has participated in long-jump and short-distance running national-level events, Poonam is from village Jambhulni and a triple-jump gold medalist and national record holder. Kewate, who hails from Mhaswad village, has represented the state in a half marathon.
“During their two-week stay at Lake Braddock High School, the girls will get an opportunity to experience and participate in American sporting culture, develop their athletic abilities, engage with a robust education system and explore a potential career as a professional athlete,” said Chetna Sinha, founder-president, Mann Deshi Foundation.
The trio are being trained at the Mann Deshi Champions Sports Academy (MDCSA), which is an initiative of the Mann Deshi Foundation in Mhaswad, Satara. MDCSA was established in 2011 to encourage rural children to take up sports as a career and provide them with competitive training.
Talking about the background of Vaishnavi, Poonam and Reshma, Sinha said, “They all belong to economically disadvantaged families in Mann Taluka. Before and after school hours, they have to do household work, cut sugarcane or herd sheep/buffaloes. When we noticed their talent, we started training them at MDCSA. Their performance on the field has been very promising.”
Poonam’s family is into sheep rearing and her house is located in the mountains of Bhojling. She was selected for National School of Sports at the age of 12, while she was participating in an event at Mann Deshi. She has a gold medal in triple jump to her credit at the nationals. She has also represented Maharashtra in the nationals three times.
Vaishnavi’s father works as a non-teaching staff in a local school at Pulkoti. “A few years ago, I participated in the Mann Deshi Champions Health, Nutrition and Coaching camp, which was organised in Mumbai by MDCSA. Since then, I have been applying all the running techniques. I learnt from the Mumbai coaches and strictly followed the nutrition schedule,” said Vaishnavi.
Reshma, who used to earlier participate in football and track-and-field events, said, “Running after buffaloes made my legs strong, so my suggested that I should participate in long-distance running events. I began with 5-km race, and gradually graduated to 10 km races and half marathons.”
Sinha said the two-week programme will also provide athletes a chance to benefit from American track-and-field training in high-quality facilities. Athletes will also participate in a Braddock Track Meet and receive nutritional advice from experienced coaches. They will also get to attend high schools and visit colleges in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. “On returning, they will be able to inspire other aspiring athletes,” she added.