Taranjit Kaur, 19, Wins Best Female Athelete

The 19-year-old from Delhi had won the best female athlete award at the 18th Federation Cup junior athletics championshi...

There was no shortage of well-wishers for Taranjit Kaur on Wednesday. The 19-year-old from Delhi had won the best female athlete award at the 18th Federation Cup junior athletics championships, following her gold in the 200m sprint that had preceded a victory in the 100m dash two days ago. Though not records, her timings were impressive, especially coming in what was the first national athletics meet in nearly a year. Even as she fields calls and congratulations, Taranjit can't wait to get back to Delhi. "The first thing I'll do is go to Chhatrasal Stadium and show my medals to Sushil sir. He has been a huge support for me," she says.

While she's now considered one of the brightest prospects in the country, only two years ago Taranjit seriously considered hanging up her boots following a serious injury that threatened to end her running career. And at her lowest point, it was a pep talk from one of India's greatest heroes -- two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar -- that motivated her to carry on...

...Sunita Rai, who'd coached Taranjit ever since she first showed up at New Delhi's Chhatrasal Stadium, tried to support her but ultimately called on Sushil to talk to the young girl. Although plenty of talented young athletes train at Chhatrasal Stadium, the complex is primarily famous for its elite wrestling program that's produced multiple World and Olympic medallists. None are more famous than Sushil, who also holds an office position as the Sports officer of the Delhi government.

Sushil might be one of India's greatest sporting icons, but he's even more of a legend at Chhatrasal. "We often see him training at Chhatrasal Stadium. Imagine having an Olympic medallist along with us. How many young athletes can say that? He's always willing to talk to young athletes and guide us but most of us don't even dare speak with him," says Taranjit.

Sushil made sure to sit with her and spoke plainly. "He told me I needed to put the injury in the back of my mind and start training again. He said he'd at least understand if I'd injured my leg or something. He said I needed to take this break and make a new start in my career. I might not have listened if anyone else had said it. But when Sushil sir says something, you have to believe it," she says.

Taking Sushil's advice to heart, Taranjit threw herself once more into her sport...

...She continued to work even when prospects outside the track appeared grim. "Her family's not well off. It's always hard for her to afford supplements or even equipment. Even this year she wasn't sure about competing in Bhopal or (the junior nationals) in Guwahati because her family only had enough money to send her for one competition. Luckily her college coach raised funds to allow her to travel to both competitions," says Rai.

In Bhopal though, Taranjit's hard work appears to have paid off. Although her injury continues to trouble her, Taranjit willed herself through to the finish line in Bhopal. "It still hurts a little. A normal collarbone is straight but mine is curved. So it always hurts when I pump my arms when I sprint. But like Sushil sir says, I try to block the pain. The sprint double and especially the gold medal in the 100m, in a time of 11.70s, has catapulted her into possible contention for a place in the Indian 100m relay team. That's Taranjit's goal as well. After having made an impression at the Junior Federation Championships, she'll have more opportunities to perform at the Junior Nationals in Guwahati next month and then the Indian Grand Prix and the senior Federation Cup in March. "I have an aim to be in the same team as Hima Das and Dutee Chand. They are the golden girls of Indian running. I want to run with them and hopefully break their records one day," she says.

While this is a target coach Rai now believes is achievable, she admits she was nervous prior to the Junior Federation Cup. In all the years Rai had coached, no Delhi girl had ever won a sprint gold at the national level in either the junior or senior level. She happened to share as much with Sushil when he happened to pass by a practice session a few weeks back. "I was standing with our coach when Sushil sir heard this. He said even India hadn't won an Olympic medal in a long time when he went to Beijing. He said just believing something wasn't possible would end up beating Indians before the competition itself. He said like he made it possible for other Indians, 'Tu bhi set kar sakti hai (you can also make it possible for others)'. That was such a huge motivation for me," says Taranjit.

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