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Running barefoot, Jyotsna Bhalekar wins silver at state athletics meet

Jyotsna Babusha Bhalekar, an adivasi girl ran barefoot to finish second in the 1500m girls’ U-19 and third in the 800m girls U-19 category of the District Sports Office (DSO) Maharashtra state athletic championships at Sports Authority of India (SAI), Kandivli on Wednesday.

Jyotsna Bhalekar
Gutsy: Jyotsna Bhalekar during the girls’ U-19 1500m at the Sports Authority of India track in Kandivli. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Jyotsna clocked 4:59.02 to finish behind gold medallist Arti Patil of Kolhapur who clocked 4:53.03. Jyoti Chavan of Nagpur won the bronze with a timing of 5:04.01. In the 800m, the 16-year-old clocked 2:24.5 to finish third, behind eventual winner Sayali Waghmare of Nagpur (2:20.6) and Damini Pednekar (2:22.4) who finished second with a timing of 2:22.4.

Vishaka, the daughter of farm cultivators, Babusha and Tara, from a remote village Yenere in Pune district’s Junnar taluka, won hearts with her show. The Class X student of Shri Chatrapati High School in Yenere qualified for the 1500m national-level meet to be held in Ranchi in January next year.
However, she couldn’t make it in the 800m event as only the top two athletes from each event were picked.

Jyotsna spoke of her struggles back home: “My parents know nothing about athletics. We stay in a hut on a hilltop in Yenere. As my parents cannot afford to buy me a pair of slippers, leave alone running shoes, I go to school barefoot. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to take up athletics without the support of my school’s physical education teacher — Pramod Mule and Suresh Phapale.”

Jyotsna Bhalekar
Jyotsna Bhalekar's residence in Yenere village of Junnar taluka

Jyotsna’s mother suffers from partial blindness and as a result she needs to do household chore after school as well. Not having any ground to practice, she uses the 3.5 km stretch from her home to school as the track.  “As I do not get much time to practice, I run to school. Since I only run on mud tracks back home, it isn’t easy to run on the synthetic track. Recently, an ex-student of my school — Anil Ghogare who works as a constable in Mumbai, gifted me running shoes.

For the nationals, I want to practice wearing them and win a medal. It’s a dream to buy my parents a concrete house some day.” Jyotsnas’s father was proud of his daughter’s achievements. “I am a poor man and have never seen what an athletics ground looks like. I am proud that my daughter won a silver medal,” Babusha told MiD DAY from Yenere. 

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