The National Awards ceremony on August 29th brought together a multitude of India’s finest athletes who achieved what was previously thought of as improbable, and even impossible, breaking barriers to what these nation’s athletes can achieve with sheer desire and hard work. While the ceremony brought together athletes of all ages, genders, caste, colour and even sizes, one of these esteemed individuals stood out from the pack because of what she stood on. That girl was heptathlete Swapna Barman, who in addition to her athletic gifts, was blessed with two extra toes.
The fact that Barman has 12 toes is far from the most insane thing about her life. The West Bengal native won a Heptathlon gold medal at the Federation Cup in New Delhi at age 20 before going on to clinch another gold at the Asian Championship that very year. She then proved to the world that her wins were no fluke by winning her third gold medal at the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018, becoming the first Indian female athlete to achieve that feat. And if you thought that’s crazy, well there’s more…
With extra toes comes the need for extra room in shoes. However, she couldn’t afford those extra-wide shoes owing to her family’s challenging financial conditions. Her mother ran a local tea estate and father, a tuk-tuk driver, has been bed-ridden after suffering a stroke in 2013. Also, Barman had three siblings, making it difficult for the family to even feed itself sufficiently. Her life, like the house she lived in, lacked any concrete support. To make it out, she had to support herself and then return to support her family. She withstood, maybe even got used to the pain that her toes were subjected to owing to the use of regular shoes. The agony didn’t deter Barman. She earned her way to a scholarship in 2016 and made her way into Sports Authority of India, Kolkata where she trains even today.
So, fast forward to 2018, she’s won the Federation Cup, she’s won in the Asian Championship and up next, it’s the Asian Games. Her preparations were perfect, her confidence sky-high, but life wouldn’t let her have things the easy way. A day before the Heptathlon, she suffered a gum infection. She strapped her jaw and dealt with the pain but it would get so excruciating that she considered pulling out of the Games altogether. But she didn’t. I mean, of course, she didn’t. If you have come this far, you’ve realised that Barman’s threshold for pain is a tad bit higher than your average human being. So she competed. She aced the remaining events, except the 800m race where she would take a heavy fall, recover and finish fourth. By the end of the seven events, she had accumulated, no pun intended, a jaw-dropping 6026 points to win gold.
Barman did what she usually did. She dominated while dealing with pain. She had a big smile on her face as she did laps around the track waving the tricolour having made every citizen proud. So here she is, in 2019, a recipient of the Arjuna Award, who was flown to Nuremberg in Germany by Adidas to get Barman a custom pair of boots. Barman’s story is nothing short of a tear-jerking yet an intense movie. But perhaps the most insane part is that West Bengal native is only 22. The name Swapna Barman will be heard a lot in the coming years. Her story will reach out further and further to people in all walks of life. The story of a girl who ran in pain, jumped in pain, threw in pain and then conquered pain.
Written by: Sportz Interactive