Priyanka Goswami recalls days when she rationed her appetite because there was no money for all meals while she trained as a racewalker away from home in Lucknow.
Her father had been suspended from his roadways job and couldn’t really afford to send her money to subsist in another city where she trained, much before she made the national camp. On Saturday, Goswami survived on “bread-jam” – out of choice – although the athlete’s dining room was teeming with all sorts of food. “Medal se pet bharr gayaa,” she would say, after picking India’s first-ever CWG silver in the 10km race-walk.
This one other time, she found herself weighing her options – whether to go meet a close friend’s parents or not – because she didn’t have enough bus money to reach Ambala. Those days, she believes, are firmly behind her.
She wasn’t sure if her silver would register, though, given it was raining medals all around Birmingham. But it had been an eventful day when her Kenyan competitor had literally asked her why she was pushing the pace, and she had snorted away those little mental games because she’d come a long way to even reach here.
RACE WALK SILVER!!
— Dept of Sports MYAS (@IndiaSports) August 6, 2022
“I even got a warning at 6 km, and I think officials do it just to intimidate us. I mean I was thinking, half the distance is over and Bhaisaab never saw a problem in my technique. Suddenly why’s he having a problem?” she would laugh.
The chatterbox athlete takes a Bal Gopal idol in a little basket wherever she goes, and she would insist on carrying it to the podium, with volunteers trying to stop her. “But I didn’t listen. I just took it. As if they would stop a silver medalist,” she blustered with a wink.
She borrowed it from her mother Anita, whose faith she inherited. “During the lockdown, I had gone ‘psycho’ because we couldn’t train. At that time I asked my mother why she put her faith in this. She let me keep it. It helped me become calmer and diverted my mind from all the tension. I carried it to Bangalore. Now after I’ve found success with it, I’ll carry it everywhere. The chief coach keeps it for me when I’m competing,” she says. Then it travels with her to the podium.
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Goswami loved competitions. “In school, I’d take part in Diya and rangoli competitions and be happy to win those,” she recalls. Not winning weaned her away from gymnastics as a youngster in Meerut. She was petrified of the Balance beam, arguably Gymnastics’ most dreaded apparatus. “Coach would scream at me too much when I failed. I couldn’t take the yelling. So I ran away,” she says, adding that sometimes she even got caned and developed an aversion for the sport.
But in Class 11, she believed she was now all grown up, and no one would yell at her. But the scolding never stopped. So after having gathered the courage to return to the sport because she didn’t want to be a quitter, she drifted towards athletics. “There also I wasn’t winning. Someone told me to try walking. Mujhe lagaa bas chalnaa hi hai. So I took off,” she says. Over 3 km, things were easy, over 10 km in seniors, life got pretty technical.
On Saturday, she was afraid of last-minute drama. “I kept hearing from the sidelines that the third place is far behind. But why should I leave? I kept pushing the pace,” she says. It’s when the Kenyan Emily Wamusyi Ngii, who won the bronze, was totally boggled about the Indian’s mad rush.
“Usually mummy gets dreams of my success. But when I asked her today, she said, aaj clearly kuch theek se dikha nahi sapna (I couldn’t see the dream clearly today),” she would quip. She didn’t leave things to chance, divinity, or a Kenyan’s prompt. She raced ahead, not heeding the warnings of the jury, and raced to glory.