Mirabai Chanu thanks truck drivers: Olympic silver medalist Mirabai Chanu recently felicitated the truck drivers who had helped her reach the training centre far away from her home, during her initial days as a weightlifter. While the entire country cannot stop fawning over Chanu, the Manipuri athlete took out time to find these truck drivers and thank them. We can’t appreciate Chanu for her heartfelt gesture enough, but this sweet tale also tells us what it takes to raise an Olympian. In a country devoid of resources, marred by economic discrepancies and gender bias, often it takes a few good Samaritans to help young athletes dream big.
After she won India its first Olympic medal at the ongoing 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Chanu’s brother Saikhom Sanatomba Meitei revealed that the weightlifter had to overcome immense financial challenges to realise her Olympic dream. “The training centre used to be 20-30 kms away from our home. Our parents would give her 10-20 rupees for her journey,” said Meitei, adding that it was truck drivers, leaving early morning from the market square in her village Nongpok Kakching, who would ferry Chanu to the Khuman Lampak sports centre. “We would know which of them is going towards her training centre and would send her with them. She never complained about it. She would go alone every day and was very hard-working,” he further said.
After winning the Olympic medal in 49 kg weight category, it was reported that Mirabai Chanu was looking for the truck drivers who had helped her and her parents, by ferrying the young athlete to the training centre. On August 5, a picture of the athlete in conversation with these truck drivers made it to social media, and went viral in no time.
Olympiad @mirabai_chanu home was more than 25 km from the Sport Academy. No means of transport during those days, except trucks which carried river sands to the City. These truck drivers gave her lift everyday. Today she rewarded these truck drivers. pic.twitter.com/9WegUkwjkz
— Naorem Mohen (@laimacha) August 5, 2021
Imagine being a young aspiring female athlete whose family is struggling economically. Imagine how her parents must have felt, having to send their daughter daily with strangers for training, because they couldn’t afford a better option. We live in a country where even little girls are told to not talk to boys they don’t know, never take chocolates from strange men, never go out with them, and for a very valid reason. Chanu and her parents had to put their faith and this young athlete’s safety in the hands of these men, and they didn’t disappoint.
Yes, this is a story of Chanu’s immense struggle to achieve success and glory, but it is also a lesson for each one of us as citizens of India, as to what we can help young boys and girls of this nation achieve, simply by being kind and compassionate.
We can choose to be the aunt who taunts a girl playing hockey with boys, or we can ensure that she has a proper stick to play with. We can be neighbours who shame parents for letting their daughter wear a skirt, or we can buy her a nice pair of shoes to play in. We can judge the parents of a young athlete for letting him chose wrestling over engineering, or we can help him catch the bus from his village to the sports centre in another town.
Athletes are a product of determination, hard work, nerves of steel and opportunity. Sadly in India, depravity and stigma also plays a big part in shaping the lives of our young athletes. There is one Mirabai Chanu, but there are thousands of others, whose talents never get recognised, who never get to achieve their full potential, because they were discouraged from pursuing sports. Because they didn’t have people their parents could trust to ferry them safely to training centres. Because their mom’s friend taunted her for letting them stay out and play till late every day.
If we want more Mirabai Chanus in this country, then we need more good Samaritans like these truck drivers. We have to be a society worthy of medalists and world-class athletes. Simply cheering for them, when they make the nation proud, is just not enough.
Views expressed are the author’s own.