KOLKATA, Oct 14: Until that evening in Jakarta when the country celebrated her success with much fanfare, everything about heptathlete Swapna Barman spelt hardship. From extreme poverty to physical deformity of the kind that threatened to time and again derail her ambition, Swapna pushed every odd to its limits on course to become the first Indian heptathlete to win an Asian Games gold.
But by the 21-year old�s own admission, getting a government job, and certainly not a gold medal, was her priority when she set sail.
�When I started with high jump in my locality and used to take part in local competitions back home, my target was to somehow get a government job. That was my dream then,� Swapna told IANS here.
Swapna is the youngest among four children of her parents, who even now struggle to make ends meet. Belonging to the Rajbongshi tribe in North Bengal, Swapna�s mother worked as a maid and doubled up as a plucker in the tea gardens.
Her father, Panchanan Barman, pulled a van rickshaw until he became bedridden following a stroke seven years ago.
�My other three brothers and sisters struggled to make a living. I am the youngest. So my father thought if I eke out something from sports, that would be helpful for the family.
�All I wanted was a small-time job,� said Swapna, who besides financial hurdles had to overcome the hurdle of having six toes in both her feet to produce her career-best performance by logging 6,026 aggregate points from the gruelling seven events spread across two days in August.
�My dream now is to take my country further ahead and make all of you proud,� added Swapna, while continuously stressing that she should not be treated differently now as the journey has just begun.
In Jakarta, she competed with a tape on her right cheek to lessen pain arising out of a tooth infection. �I could not eat anything before my event. I was so ill I cannot tell you. I only knew I had to do this. All these years of struggle rested on this.�
Her story began in a narrow lane between paddy fields that leads to Ghoshpara village where Swapna ran for the first time in her life.
�I got a glimpse of Swapna Barman for the first time in 2011 in Jalpaiguri, which is also my native place. I have a few students there and they told me, �Sir take her along with you to Kolkata, she is very good�,� recalled her long-time coach Subhas Sarkar who, among others, has also trained track and field athlete Hari Shankar Roy.
A Sports Authority of India (SAI) trainer since 1992, Sarkar said Swapna�s diminutive stature and stocky built did not impress him initially. It was Raikot Para Sporting Association secretary Samir Das who pushed Sarkar to take her along with him. Swapna used to train here before moving to the SAI Eastern Centre in 2012. � IANS