Manipur’s Saikhom Mirabai Chanu made the country proud by winning a silver medal in the women’s 49 kg weightlifting category at the recently-concluded Tokyo Olympic Games. She also won hearts and respect. Now hailed as a national pride across the length and breadth of India, she recently spoke with Grazia, revealing interesting snippets about her life.
“I’ve had very humble beginnings. I didn’t have access to proper food or even transport to take me to the centre where I trained when I first started out. I would hitch a ride with the sand-carrying truck drivers daily to reach the training venue, which was around 25 kms from my home,” the 26-year-old was quoted as saying.
‘I was born to weightlift’
While speaking with the outlet, Chanu also said that she “celebrates [her] physicality despite being pint-sized”. “When I was a kid, I would lift heavy firewood and travel long distances with it, even when my elder brother would have difficulty just picking them up. I guess I was born to weightlift.”
Of late, the topic of mental health issues among sportspersons has taken centre-stage. The weightlifter told the magazine that she, too, had had her share of struggle, including when she wanted to give up the sport altogether.
“I frequently thought about leaving the sport for good, but I remembered the sacrifices my family had made and so, I told myself that unless I get an Olympic medal, I would not quit… So, I took some time off and worked on my mental and physical fitness. It helped me rejuvenate and come back stronger, both physically and mentally. I was more focused, determined, and hungry for success,” she said, referring to when she battled depression and her low performance at the Rio Olympics 2016.
Earlier this year, tennis star Naomi Osaka had decided to withdraw from the French Open after skipping press conferences owing to mental health issues. At the Tokyo Olympics, gymnast Simone Biles also decided to withdraw, prioritising her mental well-being over medals and glory.
Chanu said mental health issues in sports are “usually overlooked”, which “might trigger feelings of abandonment and loneliness”. “When an athlete is mentally fit, it enables better performance and training. It is natural for us as athletes to have ups and downs, but rather than mulling over what’s beyond our control, at times, it’s important to take time off, regroup, and then train better for the future. I meditate and listen to music to relax after training. I love Hindi and Manipuri songs.”
A role model for girls
She opened India’s medal tally this year at the Olympics, thereby becoming a role model for many girls and young women in the country. The weightlifter said wants to “inspire little girls everywhere”; that she wants to “encourage them to dream big and pursue those dreams with full determination and dedication”.
“I’d also request parents to support their children.”