The last 3 months have been the biggest roller-coaster ride for the 24 year old Aishwarya Mishra. For a 400m sprinter in India to get noticed by several newspaper sports columns, in itself a big deal. But all that to happen in a span of just 3 months, when you are neither a young prodigy nor an Olympics medalist, is strangely unique.
We tried to understand the making of this champion athlete, and how she has handled the ups & downs in the 1st quarter of 2022.
ISH – Lets start by understanding your background ?
AISHWARYA – I have been born and brought in Mumbai. A Dahisar girl. Papa has a small vegetable shop which is the primary source of our household income. I am a middle child who is able to live her passion. My elder brother left his studies and started working to support the family as well. Thankfully I have completed my graduation and now focussing only on race, race, race…
ISH – Tell us how you got interested in the field of professional athletics? When did you really decide, that 400m was your destiny?
AISHWARYA – I actually started by running long distances. I use to especially run in competitions which had cash rewards. Simple funda was “itna bhagoge, toh itne paise milenge”. In my 11th – 12th class was the first time I competed in Inter University competition, that too in a 10km race. That didn’t really work out, so then I got a chance to train on synthetic track in SAI Mumbai. I was still training for middle distance for almost an year and especially focussed on 800m. One day my Coach asked me to run a 400m. I ran and found it easy, considering it was just half of my usual distance (laughs). I completed that trial in 56 seconds. Then I started training for 400m and was hovering between 56-58 seconds for sometime. Then after rigorous training I came down to 54, and then in University games I came down to 52 seconds which then got me into national camp. So basically I went pro after 12th class.
ISH – When was the 1st time you wore spikes, and ran on a Synthetic track?
AISHWARYA – I think it was around my 12th standard when I ran on the synthetic track for the first time. My coach Sumit sir introduced me to the concept of running with spikes on a track. Just imagine, living in Mumbai and aiming to be a professional athlete, I saw a synthetic track for the 1st time when I was 17-18 years old. Before that I use to practice on road or on a normal playground. There are hardly any Track athletes which start so late in life. My first spikes were of Kalenji. I felt so weird wearing it, that during the time of a race, I removed the shoes and ran bare feet. But then Sumit sir trained me for a month, with sole focus on spikes. Then came the Inter university where I was able to run with Jisna (Jisna Mathew) and Visma Didi (V K Visma). This was the time I decided, that “boss karna toh 400m hi hai”. I understood my body is made for 400m only, and that’s when the work started on building a professional career.
Just imagine, living in Mumbai and aiming to be a professional athlete, I saw a synthetic track for the 1st time when I was 17-18 years old
ISH – Before 2021-22 there was a huge gap of almost two years when you neither improved your performance, nor did you participate in major competitions. What really happened?
AISHWARYA – As you know there is always a difference between a Foreign coach and our Indian coaches. Sumit Sir (Coach Sumit Singh from SAI Kandivali) trained me in a specific way and made me someone who can reach a timing of around 52 seconds. This got me into the National camp. Then immediately I was on a plane to Turkey for a camp. All the sudden changes and routines did not suit my body. There was nothing wrong with the Training technique, but my adaptability took some time. My earlier training use to be purely on endurance. In the camp you are suppose to train on 10 different parameters, which I could not catch up to. This started affecting my results. I was not able to analyse what are the mistakes I am making for these bad results. Finally due to a string of bad timings, I was removed from the Camp.
ISH – So how did the sudden change and bounce back happened ?
AISHWARYA – After coming out of Camp, Covid hit. I was not affected with the virus, but the lockdowns became brutal on the training regime. I was just sitting at home counting days and wondering what to do now. Then I connected with some of my close friends in Haryana. I realised there are places in Haryana where athletes are still able to practice on track with some precautions. Seeing this I convinced my family and moved from Mumbai to Haryana. I realised I have to anyways go back to Camp one day. So instead of doing a Desi workout, I needed to follow the Training techniques taught in the camp. I use to maintain my a workout journal in camp, which I started following to the T. I repeated those training sessions on my own, and made them my strength instead of my weakness. I made a decent return in the 2021 Federation cup and then came 1st in the Maharashtra state athletics meet in 2021.
ISH – How has been the local State support?
AISHWARYA – I gave up on getting any prominent support from my State body long time back. Just look at other states like Haryana on how they treat their National champions. After winning a national medal other states give a decent reward, but that’s never the case here. Its not about the money, but what that money brings. Its about how long an Athlete is able to survive using that money. Only Adil sir use to support me, which helped me reach the national camp. Even after winning a Gold (in 400m) and Silver (in 200m) this year in the Federation cup, no one came forward to reward me for the efforts. This is an individual event where you are not making a monthly income or getting paycheck after every competition. We get to see some money only after winning several competitions, that too only if your family is able to support you for spikes and supplements during this course.
ISH – So you are back in National Camp ?
AISHWARYA – Yes. Now that I have individually qualified for the World Championships, I have to train at the Camp with the Team. Didn’t qualify for Commonwealth Games which obviously pinches, but I am happy with what I have. In world championship I want to give my best with the kind of competition I am going to face there. Being selected for national camp is important for me because my family cannot undertake any more expenses for my training. Also being in Camp has an added advantage, as I can get a chance to be selected in 4*400m Relay as well.
ISH – Now lets talk about the elephant in the room. After all the positive coverage you received in April after winning the federation cup, in May we got to see a widespread rumour mill of you disappearing. What really happened ?
AISHWARYA – The biggest problem is that people from Media only work on catchy headlines and TRP. They never bother to deep dive into what is the exact issue with the person, or if there is actually an issue to begin with. Before publishing their reports, they didn’t bother to check that I gave my dope test not once but twice after the 400m finished in the Federation Cup. If I really wanted to run away, I could have done that immediately after finishing my race. If I really had something to hide, I would have raised a ruckus on why I was being tested twice, when normally only 1 test is taken. The 2nd test went on for so long that I was tired the next day for my 200m. But still I managed to finish it in respectable time.
Speaking of the controversy, I really don’t care what Media people spoke about me because neither they bothered to understand what’s going on in my family and the challenges I am facing, nor I am interested in telling them. Woh kehete hain na “kuch toh log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehena” (It is famously said that people only talk because that’s all they can do).
ISH – So what was the real issue that you were not reachable, and when did you get in touch with AFI to sort this out ?
AISHWARYA – My grandmother was ill, and the moment I came to know about this, I went by her side. Unfortunately my phone conked off at the same time. She has been a true supporter of my dream apart from my Parents and siblings. Whatever land she owns in the village, she keeps on selling a piece of that to arrange funds for my training and nutrition. I am deeply attached to her, so I couldn’t stop myself from being with her. I was at a village for weeks without my phone. That’s the reason I also could not go to the National training camp at Turkey in May.
When I came back to Mumbai, I called up Adil Sir, Radha Sir and Bhanot Sir to explain the actual issue at home. Initially they were very angry with me, but then when they understood my challenges they supported me 100%. Despite the controversy AFI stood by me fully. AFI helped & spoke with my state authorities and got me selected in the Inter State championship.
ISH – Your absence at the medal ceremony after winning the 200m (at the Federation Cup) also raised eyebrows?
AISHWARYA – I was actually not expecting to win anything in 200m. Its not my primary event, so I had booked my tickets right after the 200m race. Infact my Luggage was also on the ground. As soon as the race got over, I rushed to the Airport. No other reason to miss the medal ceremony that day.
ISH – Why did you have a False start in the 400m heats of Inter State Championship? Were you anxious and still thinking of the controversy?
AISHWARYA – Nothing like that. The false start was a result of lack of Block start practice. As I was with my grandmother in the village, I never got the opportunity to train on the Block Start. So at the time of the event, even I don’t know what happened. As soon as ‘on your marks’ was announced, I took off. This was the first time I had a foul start in 400m. So I learned from my mistake and before the 200m finals, I practised almost 40 Block starts to get into the rhythm.
ISH – Now that you are in the National camp, where does your major expense go now?
AISHWARYA – Money flows like water in Spikes, Shoes, Apparel and Nutrition. Shoes get completely worn out in every 3 months. This is where family support is still needed and Athletes like me are always on a lookout for sponsorships.
ISH – Lastly do you feel you can compete with the world’s best in the World Championships, Oregon.
AISHWARYA – Definitely. I am excited and looking forward to going there. I am sure I will be Physically and Mentally ready for the challenge.