Rising Indian race walker, Reshma Patel, won the Gold medal in the under-18 girls 5000m race walk in the national junior athletics championships. It was held at the Sarusajai Stadium in Guwahati on Sunday. She clocked 23 minutes 38.57 seconds, succeeding KT Neena’s record of 24:11.70 set in Bambolim in Goa in 2014.
With this victory, the middle-distance runner has broken a second record in less than two weeks’ time. Earlier on January 26, Reshma broke Priyanka Goswami’s national record as a debutant in the under-20 mark in 10,000m race walk at the Junior Federation Cup in Bhopal. She clocked the same in 48 minutes 25.90 seconds, superseding Goswami’s 49:16.51 set in 2014.
While in her first record-breaking performance, Reshma faced tough competition from her fellow contestants, this time she was able to post a comfortable win. She credits her brother Indrajeet Patel for being her guiding light all through her career in athletics, as he himself is a long-distance runner who participated in the Youth Olympics 2010.
Hailing from Allahabad, Reshma’s family is into agriculture. She has been training in Uttarakhand with her sister Roji Patel and brother Indrajeet since 2017. Indrajeet, 27, is battling knee injuries now, but was a national champion who won the 10,000 metres in 2012. He also has two Mumbai Half Marathon wins up his sleeve. Reshma’s sister Roji also won the under-20 10000m race walk championship in 2019.
“Bhaiyya has paved the way for us. He did everything for us, including fighting with everyone back in our village to bring us to Uttarakhand. He takes care of our dietary requirements. He trains us regularly. I did not even have a clue about professional athletics until my brother got me here,” she says Reshma.
It was not a natural path for Reshma to get into professional athletics. Due to severe financial difficulties, her brother had to raise funds selling vegetables before getting into athletics. His journey from there to winning laurels for the country has been one of inspiration. Then he struggled to convince his parents to send their daughters into athletics as well.
“I fought with everyone as my family members were against it. The villagers ridiculed me by saying ‘why don’t you achieve something significant first, then you can train your sisters’. I initially got only Roji because I couldn’t afford to take care of both of them at the same time,” Indrajeet says.
However, it’s all in the past now, with all three siblings being national champions. This has changed the mindset of people back in their hometowns, as they now ask for Indrajeet’s advice on training their daughters in athletics.
(Edited by Anju Narayanan)