Swapna Barman, the 21-year-old gold medal winner in the heptathlon event at the recently concluded Asian Games, is not your garden-variety athlete. With an extra toe on each foot, she overcame physical pain and discomfort to become the first Indian woman to win gold in heptathlon, which is a track-and-field combination of seven different events: 100-metre hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 metres, long jump, javelin throw, and 800 metres. She accrued a total of 6,026 points over two days, giving close competition to and finally defeating her Chinese counterpart, Qingling Wang.
The daughter of a rickshaw-puller and tea-estate worker, Swapna was born with twelve toes and has had a difficult time dealing with the condition all her life. Speaking to the media after winning the medal, Swapna confessed she experienced a lot of pain during the event and said she struggles to squeeze her feet into regular shoes that do not have much space to accommodate the extra toes. And running and performing the other challenges of the event would not have been without physical discomfort. The athlete, who hails from the town of Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, said her mother too has 12 toes, according to The Better India.
Seeing her grit and gusto in accomplishing what could have only been a painful and difficult feat, support has poured in for the young athlete from several quarters.
Integral Coach Factory, a railway coach manufacturer that is based in Chennai and operated and run by Indian Railways, also funds training for athletes, and has come forward to help Swapna. The company wants to fit her with a custom-made shoe that is specifically designed to suit her condition. Sudhanshu Mani, General Manager, Integral Coach Factory, said,
We are in touch with Nike. We are waiting for her to come back so that we can get her size and get the customised shoes made for her.
The West Bengal government promised a reward of Rs 10 lakh and a government job for Swapna. In an interview with Republic TV after her win, she said,
I was always dismissed by officials and critics who ridiculed me by saying I am too short and fat for heptathlon, and that I can't go beyond 5,600-5,700 points.
Speaking about her future plans, she said,
I now plan to get over 6,200 points in the world championship that can give me a medal. But the ultimate aim is an Olympic medal, which is a realistic possibility. That no longer is a distant dream.
At the recently concluded Asian Games, India made her presence felt with an overall 69-medal tally. Its performance was noted to be one of the country's best in at an international tournament.