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Jyoti Gawte: Multiple marathon champion with no one to champion her cause

Despite clocking a personal best of 2:50:53 for her second win in Mumbai, Jyoti Gawte has given up hope of her financial situation improving.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai |
Updated: January 17, 2017 10:07:18 am
Jyoti Gawte, Mumbai Marathon, 2017 Mumbai Marathon, Indian woman 2017 Mumbai Marathon, sports news With several top competitors missing, Jyoti had an easy race. Nirmal Harindran

When Jyoti Gawte crossed the finish line, one would have expected her to feel ecstatic at being the fastest Indian woman at the 2017 Mumbai Marathon. But there was hardly any signs of rejoicing. There was a reason behind the absence of any celebration. Gawte had been here before, and her expectations of her life changing for the better after her feat had been dashed.

Despite clocking a personal best of 2:50:53 for her second win in the event, Gawte has given up hope of the financial situation of her family improving. With defending champion Sudha Singh, national record holder OP Jaisha, and three-time winner Lalita Babar choosing to sit out the race, Gawte was the favourite in a depleted field. She lived up to the billing too.

But her victory in the 2011 edition had not brought the returns she expected. Gawte thought doors of opportunities will finally open up. Securing a job with a steady salary was a definite expectation. It would have helped ease the financial burden on her family, which relied on her father who, now retired, worked as ‘safai karamchari’ at a local bank. Or maybe an invitation to the Indian national camp as well – which would help her improve her training and boost her career. Nothing , though, came.

She was shunned back into the labyrinth of uncertainty – earning a living off running marathons wherever she could possibly reach within the country. The reliance on far-from-ideal training techniques grew. But it was all she had. “It’s better that I don’t get my hopes up this time. It makes things even more disappointing if it doesn’t happen,” she said on Sunday, choking.

At 29, Gawte’s career and life have been daunted by struggle and uncertainty. Her colleagues in the athletics field, who to be fair have recorded better timings, are beneficiaries of financial stability given their government jobs. The Parbhani native in Maharashtra, meanwhile, relies on cash prizes from road races.

“She uses the money to sustain her diet, purchase running shoes, and support her family,” explains Ravi Rasqatla, her coach who has been with her since discovering her talent at a local tournament in 2003.

Up until 2015, her parents and two brothers lived with her in the family’s wooden hut. “The wood used to keep chipping and it was expensive to replace,” Rasqatla states. “From all her savings and from what her elder brother in the police keeps sending, the family has finally built a pakka two-storey house.”

While Gawte travels the country in search of marathons to compete in, her elder brother is posted in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra – a Naxalite area. “There’s always a danger over there, and our mother keeps fearing for him,” she says.

Of her own career though, she has long grown used to the struggle to find an opportunity – one that is yet to come – to improve. Twice has she represented India at international events, the Pattaya Marathon in 2011 and the 42.195 km event at the SAF Games in Guwahati last year.

Yet, she hasn’t managed to secure a spot in the national camp. “That’s where she will get superior training and knowledge to improve. If she makes it, she can surely become good enough to get to the marathon at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” asserts Rasqatal.

In Mumbai, the target she hoped to achieve was a sub-2:45 – the qualification standard for the World Championships in August. There is still a marathon in Delhi next month where she can hope to make the cut off, and possibly get recognised.

From her past Mumbai experiences though, she’s become a bit more unassuming. She asserts that she isn’t happy with her eventual timing. She’s made peace with the fact that the cash prize – a cheque of Rs 5 lakh – is all she might get. For now, she’s cautiously hopeful.

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