#IAmGrit: Asha Roy On Braving All Odds

Once the fastest sprinter in India, Asha Roy’s claim to fame was short-lived. But the odds she braved enroute to success is worth telling. Read on.

By Monali Bordoloi

#IAmGrit: Asha Roy On Braving All Odds

This Women’s Day, we at ParentCircle, present inspiring stories of the women of today for the women of tomorrow! Read, be inspired and share these incredible stories with your daughters. Let your little girls look up to these real-life role models as they grow up to become the strong women of tomorrow.

This #IAmWoman story relates to #IAmGrit

It takes huge amounts of grit, to brave poverty and odds at every step of the way, and still finish first at the podium. Meet Asha Roy, an ace runner, who didn't let an impoverished background and lack of infrastructure deter her dreams of becoming a top athlete. Rather, she 'sprinted' her way to records and medals. 

Despite her struggles, Asha stormed into the scene with a scintillating performance by clocking just 11.85 seconds in the 100-metre dash at the National Open Athletics Championships in Kolkata, 2011. Her steely determination prevailed all odds. She continued to excel in several events until her Rio Olympics dreams came crashing down due to a terrible injury she encountered. 

Asha’s inspiring journey from an impoverished background to the sporting limelight, with numerous struggles along the way is something we need to tell our daughters – that with the right attitude and spirit you can turn your world around!

Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about your childhood.

I am from a small village named Ghanshyampur, near Singur in West Bengal. We are four sisters. I come from a very humble family. Growing up, money was a real struggle. My father used to sell vegetables and sometimes, I used to help him.

From my childhood days, I was active and interested in running, jumping and other athletics. Even in school, I used to participate in all types of track and field events. It was during one such school event that my coach Probir Chandra spotted me and began training me.

When did you first realise that you wanted to take up athletics professionally?

Growing up, I never thought I would pursue sports professionally. But I enjoyed running and playing games. It was when my coach asked me to train seeing my performance at a school event, I decided to venture into athletics and give my 100 per cent. Soon, when I started winning medals wherever I participated, I was motivated to train harder and do improve my performance.

You are four sisters and you are the only one who took up sports. How did your family react to that?

From the beginning, I was the only one in our family who had any interest in sports. Seeing my success, my younger sisters tried to train too but could not handle it for too long and quit.

My family always backed me in my achievements. Even when we were struggling financially, my father used to encourage me to train for events.

My entire neighbourhood and the village were very happy with my achievements and always said words of encouragement to do well in sports.

From childhood, I had that indomitable spirit to do something, to achieve something big, even if it means training on an empty stomach. There were days when I had only one banana to eat after a hard day's workout. Some days, I would go to school after training for hours with just a bowl of rice starch. But none of these things could deter me from my goals, I was stubborn and confident. I guess that confidence helped me get far in the world of sports.

Did you face any discrimination from the society or at any stage later on?

I never faced any discrimination, in fact people from my village took pride in my achievements and thanked me for bringing laurels to the native area. However, being from a lower income group, I missed out on proper diet and other facilities a sportsperson should get. At that time, no one took the initiative to provide for my diet and other requirements.

In most of our villages we do not have right facilities for sportsperson. Where did you practice and for how long?

Yes, we lack even the basic infrastructure needed for a sportsperson. However, that should not be a deterrent for a true sportsperson. I am thankful to my school for giving me the flexibility to train while studying. In school, I used to practice for six hours – three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening or whenever I had time. My coach was my guiding factor during those trying times. In between studies and training, I used to help my father sell vegetables for a living too!

Tell us about any memorable incident from your sports journey?

The journey back home after winning the National Open Athletics Championship in Kolkata 2011, would be the most memorable. People came out of their homes in my village to congratulate me.

Why did you stop playing actively?

I was training in Bangalore for Rio Olympics when I was diagnosed with a spinal cord problem, which made it impossible for me to train hard. With a heavy heart I had to leave the camp, as I was in so much pain because of the condition. I had to stop training and it left me very disheartened.

How did you deal with the disappointment of not being able to part of Rio Olympics?

Being in the Olympics is every athlete’s dream. I was training so hard to fulfil that dream of mine, but destiny had other plans. It was an extremely difficult time for me. I had completely switched off from sports for some time. I could not even bare to watch sports on TV. I was heartbroken and angry. Slowly, I came to terms with my circumstances and accepted it as my destiny.

What are your future plans?

Currently I am employed with the Indian Railways. Who knows, I could train again or else I can train others. I am 30 years old now, sometimes I feel I should have tried harder to stick to the game. I have a 2-year-old son now, so later on if he wants to take up sports, I am there to train him.

Apart from my coach sir, my husband is also very supportive of my career. Even before marriage, he used to support my career and provided me with nutritious food and other necessities to train hard. Even now, he encourages me get back into sports.

What is your message to those girls who wants to take up sports professionally?

I would like to tell all the women out there to not be afraid of failures. Failures are part of the journey, learn from your mistakes and step forward. Never think that you are in any way inferior just because you are a girl. There is nothing you cannot do if you set your mind to it. Just be stubborn to achieve your dreams. If I can do it by braving all odds, poverty, attending school, training without proper food and still helping my father in selling vegetables for livelihood, you can surely achieve whatever you wish for. Just be on it.

To listen to the entire interview with Asha Roy, check out the exclusive podcast!

Hall of fame:

  • 2014: Awarded by the West Bengal Government for her commendable contribution.
  • 2013: Awarded the silver medal at the Asian Athletics Championships.
  • 2013: In the Asian Championships, she finished 200m with a time of 23.71 seconds to win the bronze medal.
  • 2011: Won gold in the 100m run and 200m race at the National Open Athletics Championships at Kolkata.
  • 2011: Part of the team that won silver in the 400m relay in the National Open Athletics Meet.
  • 2010: Won the silver at the University meet.
  • 2009: Won the gold for 100m at the Indo-Bangla International meet.

Also Read: #IAmDetermination: Surekha Yadav On How She 'Chugged' Ahead

About the author:

Written by Monali Bordoloi on 3 March 2020.

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