Swapna Barman is currently the talk of the town. The story of an athlete born with six toes on each foot has been doing rounds in media. This 21-year-old woman is, in fact, the first Indian heptathlete to win a gold medal at Asian games. In the seven games included, the sports star collected 6026 points. High Jump and Javelin Throw had been her forte, where she scored 1003 points and 872 points respectively.
Swapna hails from Denguajhar, a village in Jaipalguri. Her father Panchanan Barman was a rickshaw puller who is bedridden now and her mother was working at a tea garden. She learned the basics of athletics from Jaipalguri Sports Association. In an interview given to Sportstar, Ujjal Das Choudhary, the athletics head of Jaipalguri Sports Association said, “Her father pulled a rickshaw on which she used to come occasionally for training. She displayed a strange stubbornness about achieving her goals and that set her apart from other trainees. This mental faculty helped her in overcoming the physical pain while winning the gold.”
The journey was not an easy one for her. It was just five years back that she switched her interest to heptathlon from high jump. Swapna appeared with a bandaged chin and was having a severe toothache. Another major issue that she had been facing all the while was the 6 toed feet. She had no choice but to squeeze them to her conventional shoes. “I don’t get shoes or spikes that fit my size, I’m wearing shoes made for people with five toes. Whenever I wear warm-up shoes it’s very painful, just imagine what sort of pain I must be going through when I wear these jumping spikes and sprinting spikes,” responded Swapna to the media.
She is no more the 12 toed athlete but the first Indian heptathlete to win a gold medal in Asian games. In an interview given to Reuters after the feat, Swapna said, “After all, nobody from India won a heptathlon gold at the Asian Games before. I hope people will now remember me more for winning the gold than for my toes. It’s like a new identity for me.”
Swapna dedicated the victory to her family, her coach Subash Sarkar, Sports Association of India(SAI), and the athletics federation. She also didn’t forget to mention Go Sports foundation who supports her through the Rahul Dravid Athlete mentorship programme. One appeal she made after the victory was for new shoes which can fit her wider feet. And as the reports go, Chennai based ‘Integral Coach Factory’ has consulted Nike to get made-to-order shoes for the young athlete. She had been continuously suffering from injuries due to lack of proper shoes.
West Bengal government had announced a reward of one million rupees and also have offered a government job for Swapna. The victory is being celebrated and She has become a social media sensation overnight.
Meanwhile, as curtains came down for the Asian Games at Jakarta, India’s medal tally stood at 69, with 15 gold, 24 silver, and 30 bronze medals. The country maintained its eighth position. Though Kabbadi and Hockey had been major disappointments, unexpected winners made this year quite a feat.