15 January, 2017… time for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon again. Considered to be a“Sarita should be in the Olympics!!”mongst the 10 biggest (in terms of participation) marathons in the world, it attracts seasoned participants who have international exposure. A major attraction is the 6-km ‘Dream Run’. As the competition begins, a wiry little girl runs like the wind from the start point at CST station to the finish point at Gate 3 of the Azad Maidan grounds. And soon after, the winners of this dream run are announced – “…and the First Prize for the Dream Run in the women’s category goes to Miss Sarita Gawade!”
14-year-old Sarita steps forward to accept the prize. She has bested competitors who are older, city dwellers with access to the best training, many of whom have participated in such events in other countries. Not only has Sarita won in the women’s category, her score is third best across all categories of the Dream Run. As Sarita approaches the stage to receive her prize, she cannot help but think of Sonarwadi, her village in Kolhapur, her always supportive parents and teachers, and the Rajashree Shahu Maharaj Academy.
Sarita studies in the 8th std, at the Kalanandigadh Vidyalaya in Kalewadi-Ambewadi. The school is some eight km away from her village, and there are no school buses or autorickshaws. Though every bit as picturesque as the popular resort of Mahabaleshwar, the village lacks proper roads and other infrastructure. The entire region is hilly, with steep slopes and dense foliage. This is the terrain Sarita must traverse every day, to go to school.
Her teacher, Tanaji Patil ‘Sir’, has this to say about Sarita, “Her determination is praiseworthy. Her village does not even have roads. Though her father has a little land, her family is poor. Often Sarita has to finish her household chores and help on the farm before coming to school. But we noticed that she had all the makings of a good sportsperson. We always encouraged her to participate in all competitions, but realised her natural inclination was towards running races. It is almost a given, that if Sarita participates in a competition, she will stand first!”
Patil ‘Sir’ went on to say that Sarita had won first prize in many district-level sports meets and competitions. But he felt sorry that as their school was unaided, it could not provide her with the necessary training. “Sarita is extremely talented,” he said, “but we cannot do much more than root for her, which does not really help her in practical terms. We have neither expert trainers nor a good track for her to practice on. Though we are proud that Sarita belongs to our school, we cannot really stop her if she decides to move on to a larger school or college in the city which could provide her with all the necessary infrastructure to improve her performance.”
So how did this young girl from a remote village, situated on the borders of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, reach the Mumbai Marathon? The answer lies in Sonarwadi itself. Jayendra Naik, who hails from the same village, works with CORO, a Mumbai-based organisation that works towards creating awareness about issues of gender equity. He identified Sarita as someone who would be a sureshot winner at most competitions in which she participated. Naik is also associated with the Rajashree Shahu Maharaj Kala Academy, established by Srikant Naik of CORO.
The Academy, active in several villages in the area, has several programmes that help talented girls and boys hone their skills, whether related to studies or sports. It keeps an eye out for talented schoolchildren, particularly girls who are prone to dropping out midway through school.
It was through this Academy that Jayendra Naik started training Sarita. Concentrating on her running skills, he tried to train her systematically. He made her run on roads near her village and taught her certain breathing exercises to increase her stamina. Sarita followed his instructions carefully. Observing her progress, Srikant and Jayendra Naik decided to send her for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. CORO arranged for her travel, and her stay in Mumbai for the duration of the competition. Sarita, too, worked hard to ensure her victory.
Reflecting on her success, her father says, “Our dream is for Sarita to participate in the Olympics!” Her mother, too, feels Sarita should have a career in sports. But at the same time, parents are firm that Sarita must study, and complete her education. Though theirs is a poor family, Sarita has the full support of her parents when it comes to taking part in various competitions. They know she might have to leave the village to follow her dreams and that she will need the benevolence of larger society to achieve these dreams, but they are also sure that Sarita will succeed because of her talent and hard work.
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team