Khelo India: Rising from poverty to fame, Jharkhand’s Asha Kiran wins gold

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BHOPAL: Jharkhand’s international middle-distance runner Asha Kiran Barla has been resilient in the face of adversities.

On Friday (3rd February 2023), the 2022 Asian youth champion in 800m from a village near Gumla overcame a knee injury to claim the gold medal in the women’s 1500m at the Khelo India Youth Games 2022 in Bhopal.

“The pain in my left knee has been bothering me for long. Since other athletes in the race weren’t running fast, it was an advantage for me as I preferred to stay back,” the Asian youth champion revealed. “The knee pain was the main reason I didn’t push hard early and surged ahead in the last 300m, ” said Asha Kiran Barla.

The Jharkhand runner said she has been undergoing treatment from a physio in Ranchi. The pain subsides during treatment but it crops up again when I push hard in practice, she added.

The Jharkhand runner has a personal best of 4 minutes 31 seconds in the 1500m event. On Friday she stayed behind the leading group in the initial stages but took the lead with 300m to go. She crossed the finish line nearly 13 seconds slower than her best time of 4:31 clocked last year.

In the previous edition of the Khelo India Youth Games in Panchkula, a Jharkhand runner won gold in the 800m. Her personal best in the two-lap race is 2:06 seconds.

Off the track training that too on hard surfaces is the main reason for persistent knee pain, says her mentor and coach Ashu Bhatia.

Despite winning gold at the 2022 Asian Youth Athletics Championships, Asha Kiran Barla doesn’t have any financial support and buying a good pair of running shoes for practice is beyond her means, her coach said.

“If an athlete doesn’t have financial resources to have a nourishing diet, it will be a dream come true to have a pair of running shoes to practice on different surfaces,” the coach added.

Asha Kiran Barla’s father passed away a decade ago, while her mother worked as daily wage labour to feed the family of three children, including Asha Kiran.

During her formative years having one meal a day was a luxury for the Barla family. “Her village is virtually cut off from the outside world and there are no basic amenities,” Ashu Bhatia said.

Several youngsters in the Gumla region play hockey. Some girls play football too. To escape poverty youngsters from her village play local prize money tournaments. Her elder brother, a daily wage labour, plays weekend prize money hockey tournaments. “Beyond local events many don’t get a chance as they have to work to earn a living and don’t have additional support to entirely focus on sports,” says Asha Kiran Barla.

Asha Kiran Barla tried her hand in hockey and football. Still, she shifted to athletics because a games teacher at the local missionary school in Gumla she was studying, encouraged her to try running. The move paid off. She won the under-14 girls 600m title at the 2017 national inter-district meet.

That was the beginning of her journey to the running world. Her coach Ashu Bhatia, who has an athletics academy in Bokaro, spotted her during a local school meeting in Gumla. On the advice of the coach Asha Kiran Barla has also shifted to Bokaro.

Earlier in January this year, the promising Jharkhand athlete was shortlisted by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) for the national camp in Bengaluru.

The coach is happy at least Asha Kiran Barla will not have to worry about her meals. “In the camp, she will get a good diet and modern facilities to practice,” the coach added. (ANI)

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