Shot-putter Abha Khatua recounts a difficult chapter which was 2021.
A wrist injury of her right hand, breathing difficulties, fatigue, body ache because of Covid-19 and severe chikungunya. Shot-putter Abha Khatua recounts a difficult chapter which was 2021. “It is a miracle that I am fit and able to throw today,” the 25-year-old said after throwing 17.09 metres to win gold at the 1st Indian Open Throws Competition in Patiala. Her best throw till date is an upgrade from 16.01 metres from two years ago. She will remember this Sunday as a red-letter day.
Seventeen metres is the qualifying standard for the Asian Games laid down by the Athletics Federation of India. “I feel like a champion today,” Abha said. Only a handful of women from India have thrown beyond 17 metres, she is just the fourth, so Abha deserves the spotlight. Her humble roots makes her rise to the top of the podium a story of grit.
Injury and health issues of last year seem like just another hurdle she sailed over when she talks about her background. Abha is the daughter of a landless farmer from Narayangarh village in West Midnapore. The nearest bus stop from her village is 10 kilometres away. Even today she has to hitch a ride to get to public transport. Her father Laxmikant pays a lease to the owner to farm paddy.
“Twice a year there is harvest. But we sell paddy only once because we need to keep rice for ourselves to eat,” Abha said. There were days when she ate just rice porridge before and after a competition. “About Rs 25,000 is what we earn annually. It is not much, but my family saved even some of that money to fund my career when there was a good yield,” Abha said.
She thanks her father for toiling in the sun all these years. When it was needed, she became a farmhand. “I have worked on the field with my father and brother. As a family we had to stick together and make it work for us.”
Last May during the second wave she returned home from the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. She was looking forward to a break from being cooped up at one place because of pandemic restrictions at the country’s top training centre.
The wrist injury had severely restricted her training so she needed a change of setting. But instead of getting time to enjoy quality time with her family, Abha tested positive for Covid.
“I had breathing difficulty, I had body pain, fever. I felt the side-effects for almost three months. I was already downbeat because of the injury,” Abha said.
But difficult times didn’t end for her. In August, she travelled to Mumbai to report to work with the customs department. She fell ill again. “I don’t know which was worse, the Covid or the chikungunya. It was a horrible year. After chikungunya, tests also showed I had high levels of uric acid. I experienced pain and swelling. It was a difficult year for the whole of the country. So I should be grateful today. Here I am throwing 17.09 metres. It proves I have recovered well from the wrist injury in my throwing hand too,” Abha added.
She had to shun the fear of injury recurring during competition. There were other challenges too. In the fray was national record holder Manpreet Kaur, the 2017 Asian Championship gold medalist who is finding her feet again following a doping ban. “I didn’t think about who I was up against. If things had gone my way I would have thrown 19 metres last year only. I had the confidence though I have been training for just two months after fully recovering from the wrist injury.”
At the national camp, Abha is coached by Gursimran Singh. Being injury-free is the key to her progress, the coach said. “I think she can break the national record (17.96 metres) within a year. But she needs to stay fit. Today she showed she has the potential to become the best thrower in the country. But consistency is the key,” Gursimran said.
A balanced diet and good facilities and structured coaching at the national camp are reasons Abha lists for her rapid improvement in shot put.
In her early years, she was lucky to be spotted by a physical education teacher in her school Sadhan Pramanik. He spoke about her highly to whoever was ready to listen when she needed doors to open to better opportunities. Her first big break came when she was admitted to the Sports Authority of India hostel in Kolkata four years ago. But she still had to make a big decision. Which event to focus on.
Because she was naturally athletic and wanted to be spotted by talent scouts, she had tried nearly everything in track and field – javelin, shot put, 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres and took to the heptathlon. “Hepathlon helped me develop my overall skills as an athlete. But in 2019 I improved most in shot put and decided to stick to it,” Abha said.
She is hoping it is smooth sailing this year. About seven years ago she had quit the sport because of a back injury and enrolled at a college. She made a comeback via the university route. “In college I took an active part in student politics. I was with the TMC. Now I don’t have any political leanings. I am focussed on throwing and nothing else.”
Shot Put: 1. Tajinderpal Singh Toor (Punjab) 19.94m; 2. Karanveer Singh (Punjab) 19.17; 3. Aniket (Uttarakhand) 17.63; Discus Throw: 1. Arjun (Delhi) 53.28m; 2. Parshant Malik (Haryana) 50.39; 3. Arvind Rathee (Haryana) 50.25; Hammer Throw: 1. Mahipal Singh Yadav (Madhya Pradesh) 54.80m; 2. Dupinder Singh (Haryana) 54.43; 3. Chetan (Haryana) 51.51; Javelin Throw: 1. Rohit Yadav (Uttar Pradesh) 77.89m; 2. Sahil Silwal (Haryana) 77.01; 3. Rishabh Nehra (Uttar Pradesh) 72.60.
Shot Put: 1. Abha Khatua (Maharashtra) 17.09m; 2. Manpreet Kaur (Haryana) 16.74m; 3. Kachnar Chaudhary (Rajasthan) 14.35; Discus Throw: 1. Seema Antil (Uttar Pradesh) 54.93m; 2. Nidhi Rani (Haryana) 51.85; 3. Sunita (Haryana) 48.05; Hammer Throw: 1. Sarita R Singh (Uttar Pradesh) 61.78m; 2. Preeti Sharawat (Uttar Pradesh) 47.06; 3. Maninderjit Kaur (Punjab) 45.00; Javelin Throw: 1. Sanjana Choudhary (Rajasthan) 52.41m, 2. Sharmila Kumari (Haryana) 51.40, 3. Shakshi Sharma (Uttar Pradesh) 45.98.