“I am living a dream”, said Hima Das as she tried to put in words her remarkable journey from being a stubborn footballer in a nondescript Assam village to becoming the first Indian woman world champion in athletics.
The 18-year-old Das, daughter of farmer parents at Kandhulimari village at Nagaon district, has become the toast of the nation after she won a gold at the IAAF World U-20 Athletics Championships in Finland on Thursday.
She is also the first Indian — male or female — to have won a gold in a track event at the world level.
She joined Neeraj Chopra who won a gold in javelin — a field event — in the IAAF World U-20 Championships in the last edition in 2016 in Poland.
Her father Ronjit Das has a 2 bigha (0.4 acres) plot of land and her mother Junali is a housewife. The small piece of land was the only source of income for a family of six.
“I know my family’s condition and how we struggled. But the Almighty has something for everybody. I am a positive person and I want to look ahead in life and do something for my parents and for the country,” Das told PTI from Tampere in Finland on Monday.
“But it has been like a dream so far. I am now a world junior champion,” she added.
Das is the eldest of four siblings. She has three younger sisters and a younger brother. One younger sister is in class 10 while the twins — a boy and a girl — are in class III. Hima herself is in class XII at a college in Dhing, just one and a half kilometers from her village.
“She is very stubborn, if she wants to do something she will not listen to anybody but she will do it with aplomb. She is a strong girl and that is why she is coming up to achieve something. I hope she will do something for the country,” her father Ronjit said from his village in Assam.
“Physically also, she is very strong. She can kick football like any of us. I told her not to play football with the boys but she did not listen to us,” her cousin Joy Das said.
It is a tough life for her parents given the meagre income but at this moment, they can’t stop celebrating.
“…we are happy that she chose sports and she is doing well. Our dream is for Hima to win medals in Asian Games and Olympic Games. Since this morning, the whole village is celebrating her gold medal. A lot of our relatives have dropped in to our place and we are distributing sweets.”
Das, though, is not thinking too far ahead and wants to just run faster. “I don’t go out on the track thinking that I will win a medal. What I think is about running faster and faster and I believe that will translate into medals,” she said.
“I don’t have any target as of now, like I will win a medal in Asian Games or Olympics. I am just happy that I am doing something, bringing laurels to the country.”
Das’ rise has been nothing short of meteoric. One of her village school teachers saw her pace while she was playing football on a muddy field at his village.
He told her to take up athletics. Soon, the teenager was spotted by Nipon Das, an athletics coach with the Directorate of Sports and Youth Welfare during an inter-district meet late in 2016.
Nipon asked her to shift to Guwahati, 150 km from her village, and convinced the youngster that she had a future in athletics. Her parents were initially reluctant but later relented.
Das trained at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium at the Sarusajai Sports Complex, Guwahati. Then, she won gold in the 400m race of the Federation Cup in Patiala in March to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.
She finished sixth in the Commonwealth Games’ 400m finals and then lowered the Indian U-20 record in 400m to 51.13 seconds while winning gold in the recent National Inter-State Championships in Guwahati to qualify for the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia.