Far from metropolitan cities and its opulent sports infrastructure, budding athletes in rural India are banking on sheer determination and the dream to win big. For these aspirants, their talent is their biggest capital.
“I am the youngest of the four daughters in my family. My parents wanted to have a son,” Reshma Kewate, a long-distance runner and half marathoner, tells MAKERS India. “But today, they are very happy. My father is proud of me because they are recognised by my name, and I am the main breadwinner of my family.”
Reshma, born and brought up in the drought-prone village of Mhaswad in Satara’s Mann Taluka, is an athlete living the life that many girls in her village can only dream of. The 22-year-old has represented Maharashtra at the national level – she participated in the All India Games and Khelo India University Games – and has even won a silver medal, at the US Virginia State Cross-Country Invitational Championship.
Specialised in running five-km, 10-km, and half-marathons, the Satara native today is counted among the top 21-km marathon runners in the State. Interestingly, it all started with Reshma running in the fields after her buffalos while grazing animals in a bid to contribute towards household chores and share the burden of her family.
Little did Reshma know at the time that the strenuous physical activity – a part and parcel of rural livelihoods – would actually help her acquire unmatched endurance level and athletic skills.
“Every day, after school hours, I would spend my time herding buffaloes and making sure that they didn’t stray into other farmers’ fields,” says Reshma, recalling the time before she started formally training. She remembers, in those days, she would spend hours at a stretch, taking her cattle to a grassy spot four kilometres from her home, and chasing after them.
“I also learnt to climb trees in the process. When out in the fields, I would play tree-tagging with my friends while the buffaloes were swimming in the lake,” she recalls fondly.
Unknowingly, it was amidst these silly childhood games and the hard labour of cattle-herding that Reshma ended up imbibing unmatched sporting skills. She had built up strength and endurance that city kids take years to develop at training institutes.
The only thing that was lacking was a professional coach who could guide the young athlete into achieving her true potential; this was fulfilled at the Mann Deshi Champions Sports Academy, an initiative overseen by Prabhat Sinha, the Founder of Mann Deshi Champions programme.
“Reshma joined Mann Deshi Champions when she was 12 or 13 years old,” he tells MAKERS India. “She was herding buffaloes when she saw a bunch of children playing on the Mann Deshi Champions ground. She got curious and asked them what they were doing. When she realized that at Mann Deshi these children were being provided with food like banana, peanuts and jaggery, she decided to join the programme.”
It has been close to a decade since then, and Reshma has not looked back. It is because of sports that she has been able to discover her talents, sustain her family, and even travel the world.
First visit to the US
In 2017, Reshma, who had already earned a few medals by then in her home-state, got the opportunity to travel to the US and add more laurels to her name. Not only was it the first time she was travelling overseas, Reshma had never even boarded a flight before that.
As Reshma stepped out for the first time from her village, and even her country, she was clueless about the culture shock which she was about to witness.
“In the US, sports is like a culture; it’s not about playing to win medals or to get government jobs as it is in India. There, it is about the passion and love for the sports,” Reshma shares, adding, “The coaches there are precise and have extensive knowledge about the sports. Also, they have good nutrition and physio programme to understand the body structure. They have amazing facilities even for high school students. There is a lot of awareness about sports and its importance.”
Never say never
Back in Mhaswad, especially during these unprecedented times, Reshma looks back at these memories with fondness “Because of sports I have seen the globe, I have been to the US twice, and I have played against International athletes. Without speaking a word English, just on sheer confidence, I was even able to travel through San Francisco all by myself,” she says.
Sports can inculcate values, a sense of discipline, personality traits, and a team spirit in an individual that otherwise, in a structured classroom setting, might be quite difficult to imbibe. In fact, any form of physical activity for that matter, as long as it’s undertaken out of passion and interest, can work miracles when it comes to spawning life skills.
Reshma’s life and journey is a testament to this. When many others – coming from similar underprivileged background – won’t even dare to dream, the athlete hailing from rural Mhaswad has strived. And along the way, she has taken, both obstacles and opportunities in her stride.
(Text Edited by Athira Nair, Video Edited by Siva)