Sisters Pooja (16) and Priyanka Pandhari Bhopi (14) have won medals galore at the District Sports Office divisional athletic championships at Priyadarshini Park. Their feat is even more remarkable given that the girls from Thane Rural District have done so without any help from their parents.
In the girls’ U-19 1500m event, Pooja clinched gold clocking 5:29.04, ahead of Sendita D’Souza (5:36.08) and Sania Wadkar (5:46.01) — both from Mumbai Surburban District. In the 3000m run, she finished second with a timing of 12:01.03, behind gold-winner Puja Vanmore of Thane Rural (11:06.06). Then, in the 5000m event, she won a silver clocking 22:22.07, behind Vanmore (19:39.01).
Meanwhile, Priyanka won gold in the girls’ U-17 3000m event clocking 10:58.08. In the 1500m, Priyanka won silver with a timing of 5:14:01s, behind Mayuri Suthar (4:33.03). Daughters of a farmer Pandhari in Badlapur’s Sai village, Pooja and Priyanka cannot afford running shoes, so they wore a bandage around the soles of their feet to beat the heat of the synthetic track yesterday.
Pooja speaks of their struggles back home: “Our parents know nothing about athletics and they aren’t too keen to send us outside the village to participate in any competitions. We wouldn’t have come here without the support of our coach (Pandharinath Mhaskar). My father cultivates rice on borrowed land, and there are times when the yield is not good and we go to bed without dinner.”
The girls keenly participate in marathons to earn money and help support their family. “It’s been two years since we started taking part in local marathons in and around our area. Winning marathons helps us earn money to buy food,” added Pooja, a Class XII student of Adarsh College of Arts and Commerce, Badlapur.
Coach Pandharinath Mhaskar said the girls are in a sorry state but hardworking nevertheless. “These two girls have made me proud today, but I pity them. Their parents don’t want them to be athletes, but when they win prize money from marathons, the parents are happy to buy food with it,” said Mhaskar.