How Sakina Khatun overcame polio and went on to win at the Commonwealth Games

From fighting polio and training with weights and dumbbells for hours every day to overcoming a severe financial crunch, 30-year-old powerlifter Sakina Khatun played to her strengths to become an inspiration to many.
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“Your shoulders look too big.”

“You look very manly.”

“Sports is not for you.”

“Powerlifting is only for men.”

These were some of the comments Sakina Khatun had to encounter during the course of her career. However, the 30-year-old powerlifter never let these statements deter her. She stood up against all odds and never gave up on her dreams.

The 30-year-old powerlifter Sakina Khatun.

Sakina was born in Kodapada, a small village in West Bengal close to the border of Bangladesh. Her father, a marginal farmer, was barely managing to meet ends. Amid all the financial difficulties, her family experienced a major setback when they got to know that Sakina was afflicted with polio. 

Since a very young age, Sakina was passionate about sports. So, instead of looking at her delicate health condition as an obstacle or a weakness, she pushed and motivated herself to keep going. 

Today, Sakina is the only woman para-athlete in the history of India to have won a medal at the Commonwealth Games. She gain recognition when she won the bronze medal at Glasgow in 2014. More recently, she also won a silver medal at the Asian Para Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2018. Her achievements do not stop here. The powerlifter went on to capture the sixth position at the World Championships this year. 

“Right from fighting muscle pain and fatigue, training with weights and dumbbells every day to overcoming a lot of financial distress, my journey was fraught with multiple challenges. But I knew it was important for me to not give up at any point. After all, no aspiration is worth renouncing,” Sakina Khatun tells SocialStory.   


Creating her own path 

Sakina underwent four surgeries to survive polio. After all the medical procedures, the doctor suggested she take up swimming, as the activity helps to strengthen most muscles in the body. 

That was when Sakina’s tryst with sports began. 

Sakina Khatun at the Asian Para Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“Swimming definitely turned out to be an amazing experience for me. But I could not make it through either competitions or national-level championships. Then, I happened to meet Farman Basha, one the most renowned powerlifters of India. He put the thought of powerlifting in my head,” Sakina recollects.

Sakina took to powerlifting in the year 2010 after completing her Class 12 at Kabiriya High School, Madrasa, putting her heart and soul into the grueling practice. Right from hack squats, weighted sit-ups, dumbbell bench presses, military presses, rows and stiff-legged dead lifts, she did them all. Her training sessions lasted two hours in the morning and another two after sunset. Sakina also followed a strict diet mainly comprising dry and fresh fruits, protein-rich items, and energy drinks.

“Considering my fragile health condition, I had to take many precautions initially. However, I went the extra mile to achieve greater heights. I did not want to be any other sportsperson. I wanted to make it to the big league. I wanted to represent my country,” says Sakina. 

When Sakina was selected for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, her joy knew no bounds. She aced it at the competition lifting a total weight of 88.2 kg to finish third in the women's lightweight (up to 61 kg) category. But four years later, Sakina’s name was ignored in the Commonwealth Games despite her meeting the eligibility criteria. 

Refusing to get bogged down, Sakina went on to clinch a silver medal in the Asian Para Games as part of the women’s 50 kg powerlifting category.  

Sakina Khatun at one of the training sessions.

Another challenge in Sakina’s path was the funding required for training, nutrition, and travel. After weighing different alternatives and looking out for financial support, relief came to the athlete from the Welspun Group, one of India’s fastest growing conglomerates. The company took care of most of Sakina’s training and boarding expenses in 2018, and will also enable her to participate in an Olympic test event at Tokyo in September 2019. 



Causing a stir in many hearts 

Sakina’s never-give-up attitude and persistence enabled her to taste success and reach great heights in the field of sports. She has shown that a strong mentality coupled with a clear vision is all it takes to excel in life. 

Today, she stands as a source of inspiration to many sports persons across the nation. Presently, Sakina is undergoing rigorous training with the aim of winning a gold medal for India in the next Olympics. 

“My dream is to win as many medals as possible for India. I want to  keep going and stop at nothing until I achieve this,” Sakina says.

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)