Poverty in itself is a curse; it deprives one not only of opportunities and facilities but in our country like India, sometimes even recognition. When it is a family of four children of a rickshaw puller in a small town like Jalpaiguri, the chances diminish further, especially if the rickshaw puller suffers two strokes to be bedridden and the wife has to give up her modest job of tea leaf plucking to be in perpetual attendance when survival itself may become a matter of grave concern. In such a situation, the healthy food required for any sort of competitive sporting activity is consigned beyond the realm of imagination but perhaps not so if your name is Swapna Barman.
Such is the story of the 2018 Asian Games heptathlon gold medallist but it is still not the full tale of her adversities. In fact, Swapna has been rightly recognised as somewhat of an antithesis of a heptathlete since heptathlon remains one of the most gruelling and demanding of the ladies’ athletic events. Born with six toes on each of her feet and a height of just 5’4”, Swapna had nothing ideal to be ever considered for any athletic honours and still she went on to achieve what no Indian woman athlete had achieved ever earlier — a gold medal in heptathlon at the Asian Games. Twice in the past, two Indian women athletes have graced the victory stand for the event at the same time but it has never been the one position that matters the most.
Swapna, before leaving home for the Asian Games, is purported to have told her mother that she would not return home if she did not win a medal at the Asian Games and despite all the pain that she had to bear during the Games due to a back injury and a swollen jaw, she came out trumps in her resolve. Throughout her career, Swapna had to encounter pain while running due to misfit shoes as a consequence of the odd shape of her feet, a factor that has perhaps pulled her back in putting up even better performances. Thankfully enough, after her Asian Games achievement and on persuasion from the sports minister of the country, Adidas has agreed to manufacture special shoes for Swapna to cater to her unusually broad feet. The move may help Swapna to put up still better performances in her event since she has always suffered in the 200-metre dash, the 100-metre hurdles and the 800-metre race due to her improperly fitting shoes.