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Fri, 20 Jul 2018

Northeast Today

Of Mirabai Chanu’s Journey from Lifting Firewood to Commonwealth Gold

Of Mirabai Chanu’s Journey from Lifting Firewood to Commonwealth Gold
April 06
17:53 2018

Lifting more firewood than her elder brother at a tender age of 12 was normal for Mirabai Chanu during an impoverished childhood. The wooden material that is normally gathered and used for fuel, probably fuelled her dreams too, to make it big one day.

Stories about the weightlifter being lampooned after a flop show at Rio Olympics have been done to death by now. That she’d contemplated quitting the sport has also been well chronicled long before she produced a record-smashing performance to win the women’s 48kg gold medal at the 21st Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.

What has not been in the public domain is this tiny tale around firewood. Born to a poor family in Nongpok Kakching village about 20 kilometres from Imphal, the youngest among six siblings, Mirabai would go to collect firewood from a nearby hill with her brother Saikhom Sanatomba Meitei, who is four years elder to her.

“One day I could not lift the bundle of firewood but Mira easily lifted it and took it our home, about two kilometres away. She was about 12-year-old then,” Sanatomba told PTI amid the noise of firecrackers bursting in celebration of Mirabai’s success at her home.

It was the earliest memory of Mirabai that Sanatomba could recall on a day the world champion weightlifter lived up to the reputation and brought laurels to the country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

“I used to play football then and I could see the passion in her to do something. She gradually went on to join weightlifting,” Sanatomba, a state level footballer at junior level, said.

“She always has the passion to achieve big. She never put herself under pressure and is always ice-cool, something that was evident in her flawless lift.”

Mirabai smashed the Commonwealth Games record in snatch (86kg), clean and jerk (110kg) to secure India’s first gold a the ongoing Games. Miles away her family along with about 15 village folks sat glued to the TV in the morning to watch Mirabai in action.

“I could see tears of joy dropping from my father (Saikhom Kriti Meitei) and mother’s (Saikohm Ongbi Tombi Leima) eyes. They were speechless for a moment,” he added.

The villagers came in and took her mother to celebrate with a traditional folk dance — Thabal Chongba — and smeared colours on each other’s face, dancing in a circle. An Army sepoy posted in Sringar, Sanatomba is on a holiday for his son’s feeding ceremony (Annaprashan).

“It will be a double celebration, we will make Mira’s favourite food — Kangsoi (a Manipuri stew delicacy). Sweets were being distributed since morning today and you could still hear the firecrackers late into the evening.”

Mirabai’s father is a lower-level employee at the Pubic Works Department in Imphal, while her mother runs a small shop at their village.

“There was a lot of financial crisis for her and they could hardly support her. Despite all the hardships, she has reached a stage we never thought of. All these brought tears to my father and mother,” Sanatomba said.

Things, however, have changed since the success of Mirabai, a silver medallist in CWG Glasgow 2014 and a gold medallist at the Commonwealth Championships in Australia in July last year.

Their family is hoping that Mirabai is offered a Deputy Superintendent of Police post after the CWG success. “All the people of the region have written to the authorities requesting DSP post for her. Now we hope she will get her dues,” he signed off.

-PTI

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