OP Jaisha's Gunning For Olympics Gold, But Many Hurdles Face The Track Star

20/01/2016 8:22 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
India's P. Jaisha Orchatteri holds the bronze medal for the final of the Women's 5000m at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, Monday Dec. 11, 2006. (AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa)

The village girl who broke a national record

In the year 2000, the small town of Kalpetta, in north Kerala's Wayanad district, held a sports festival. One girl ran the 800-metre race barefoot and with no prior coaching. She completed it with a 100 metres lead. Fifteen years later, O P Jaisha broke the national record at the Mumbai Marathon, topping the previous 19-year-old record. She followed this up with breaking her own record at the World Athletics Championships, Beijing, qualifying for the Rio Olympics in 2016. She believes she can top her own record again.

Jaisha's childhood experiences are heartrending. Five-year-old Jaisha saw her father bed-ridden due to an accident, and her mother slip into depression subsequently. The situation in the home-front was unstable and Jaisha recounts how thanks to being the youngest of three sisters, she had it easiest. Jaisha in an interview recounts how she even ate mud at times to stave off hunger pangs. Despite the poverty, her mother did not let the children do menial work.

Jaisha recounts how she even ate mud at times to stave off hunger pangs.

The victory at the local race opened a window for Jaisha, from where she saw the possibility of a better life. She diligently pursued athletics, her difficult life in hilly Wayanad in this case working to her favour.

Battling acute poverty

The only source of income for the family was two cows they purchased after mortgaging the house. Jaisha remembers feeling very happy if she could find food when she returned from school.

But no matter how difficult life got, she never gave up on running which gave her the first taste of victory. The local coach in the town recognised Jaisha's potential. With encouragement from him, she joined college. The coach in her college, Unnikrishnan, bought her a pair of shoes. Her very first. She began her formal training then and there was no looking back.


Fastrack to being a national champion

Putting her heart and soul into her training, Jaisha hit a hat-trick of gold medals. The scorching sun and tedious workouts didn't deter the athlete in her. Jaisha's achievements in a short time brought her under the training of various prominent coaches. When she was 21, Jaisha won the bronze medal at the Doha-Asian games which made her a star in athletes' circles.

She had various obstacles in the way to victory. She had to take care of her family. She took loans, sold her house and used the prize money to get her sisters married. The reality hit her hard. She was a champion and a pride to the country. But her family still lived in poverty. They didn't even have a house. Even as she continued to train and participate, suddenly her future looked bleak.

Her husband's encouragement restored her confidence

Jaisha faced a roadblock when she suffered respiratory problems and her health faltered. She finished with low scores at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Athletics Championship. Just when the media and critics had begun to write her off, Jaisha proved all of them wrong and began running again. It was the support of her husband, Gurmeet Singh that brought her back in the running.

"My husband never asked me to leave my career and he never asked me to stay home. He instilled self-confidence in me." Gurmeet left his job and devoted his whole time to Jaisha's career. It didn't take long for Jaisha to bounce back.


She proved her mettle against all odds

She went on to win several races, including the Mumbai Marathon. Even this did not alleviate her poverty. She used her prize money to pay back loans, and despite some help from the government, she is still struggling to settle her debts.

Yet, she is determined to out-perform herself in the Olympics. JSW has come forward to sponsor her accommodation and the Sports Authority Of India will pay for her travel and food. Apart from these sponsorships, she has to spend money from her own pocket to purchase shoes, sports clothing and other essentials. It saddens her that she still needs to struggle to buy these necessities for her practice.

How you can help Jaisha

Jaisha runs for around 230km a week. She needs to change her shoes every month as they wear out due to the intense training. The shoes are usually imported and the expenses are borne by the athletes.

There have been times when she had to practice in the bitter cold, at 7°C, but she couldn't afford clothes to keep her warm.

Jaisha is now waiting to train for Olympics and is leaving for the US for pre-Olympics competitions. She says that there have been times when she had to practice in the bitter cold, at 7°C, but she couldn't afford clothes to keep her warm.

O.P. Jaisha is a pride to our country. She needs help buying essential gear for her participation in the Olympics.

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