Sarita Gayakwad

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A brief biography, till 2018

Tushar Dutt, For Sarita, gold bigger than prize money, September 11, 2018: The Times of India

Half-asleep in the car, on her way home, Sarita Gayakwad was still thinking about the reception she had got in Gandhinagar upon her return from Jakarta last week.

The 4x400m relay gold medallist from Kharadi Amba in Dang district of Gujarat knew that winning the state’s first-ever Asiad medal was a big deal, but she was overwhelmed by the welcome of the state government. The announcement of Rs one crore cash prize was slowly sinking in. However, with coach KS Ajimon travelling with her, she knew wasn’t hallucinating. It was the coach who had made her believe she could run.

Sarita now knows what international glory means. But she wasn’t chasing glory when she made the switch from kho kho to track & field. It was monetary reward that pushed her to run.

The cell phone rang, bringing her alive, and she opened up on her journey in the uncertain world of sport.

“Till 2012, I had represented Gujarat at 17 national-level kho kho championships. We had won many times, but it being a team sport, it never got us big prize money,” Sarita told TOI.

Coming from a family of farmers who plough the field every day only to produce just enough to feed the family, sports was anything but luxury for Sarita. But it became a motivation when the government announced Khel Mahakumbh.

“To be honest, money was the main reason I took up track and field. Gujarat government had come up with their annual district sports meet (Khel Mahakumbh). The winner in each event was awarded Rs 5,000,” she recalled. “I knew I didn’t have any chance with kho kho, but if I participated in individual event, I could win the cash prize. As per the rules, an athlete was allowed to participate only in one discipline, but a track & field athlete could participate in more than one event. It was then that I decided to try running. I participated in five events and won gold in all of them. When I got Rs 25,000, I couldn’t believe what I had done,” she remembered. The monetary reward was enough to convince Sarita to stick to athletics. Next year, in 2015, she participated in the state-level competition of Khel Mahakumbh and participated in two events. “The prize money there was Rs 10,000 per event. I took Rs 20,000 home,” she said.

With an Asiad medal in the bag, Sarita now understands the sentiment of representing the country in international meets. “I have realized that it is a joy bigger than everything else combined. No monetary reward can ever replace that feeling,” Sarita said. After the Asiad medal, Sarita is focusing on other events. “Other than relays, I will focus on my main event — the 400m hurdles. But before that, I will relish the moment my parents will see my medal. I will build a ‘pucca’ house for my parents.”

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