The only female para athlete in Indian history to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games, powerlifter Sakina Khatun is all set to make her debut at the Tokyo Paralympics, 2020. Born in Bengal, Sakina survived Polio as a child and had to undergo multiple surgeries to recover.
She took up swimming upon advice from her doctors, to build strength after medical procedures and that is how she developed her love for sports. “Swimming definitely turned out to be an amazing experience for me. But I could not make it through competitions or national-level championships. Then, I happened to meet Farman Basha, one of the most renowned powerlifters of India. He put the thought of powerlifting in my head“, she says.
Sakina went ahead to win a bronze medal for powerlifting at the Commonwealth Games in 2014, held at Glasgow. As of 2020, she ranks 7th in the 41kg category and 8th in the 50kg categories for powerlifting, respectively. Sakina Khatun is now geared up to lift herself and the country to new horizons of glory at the Tokyo Paralympics, 2020.
Pushing through odds, lifting ambitions high
Sakina Khatun was born in Kodapada, West Bengal in 1989 in a lower middle class family. When she contracted Polio as a child, her family had to go through numerous financial struggles. She underwent four surgeries, putting her family of marginal farmers in further constraints. Amidst all these challenges, Sakina was determined to make her own living and mark.
Despite her passion for sports, her introduction to physical sports began as an attempt to strengthen her muscles after the strenuous medical procedures which left them weak. She opted for swimming, which gave her immense pleasure and relief. With a zest to be the best in whatever she does, she decided to take swimming in a competitive spirit which brought her to the National Camp for the Commonwealth Games, 2010, Delhi. But she did not qualify to represent India for para-swimming that year.
Sakina Khatun knew she had the potential, but was in the wrong sport. When she met Farman Basha, one of the most renowned powerlifters of India, her life took a U-turn. It was not a cakewalk for her when she started her training to be a powerlifter. With mounting financial constraints and social pressure, she pushed her limits, let her muscles tear and build, without any compromise.
Her life lessons and experience fueled her daily practice, and she became more competitive as she honed her skills for the international games to come. Financial constraints, patriarchy and the social stigma around disability that the society imposed on her posed various kinds of dilemmas to her progress in pursuing the sport.
But Sakina worked hard to bypass social, emotional and physical limitations, and lifted her ambitions as high as the weights in her hands. “Right from fighting muscle pain and fatigue, training with weights and dumbbells every day to overcoming a lot of financial distress, my journey was fraught with multiple challenges. But I knew it was important for me to not give up at any point. After all, no aspiration is worth renouncing”, she recalls.
Sakina wanted to make it big, and she lifted herself up relentlessly. In 2014, she created history by being the only para-athlete from India to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games. Striving for more, she continued her practice and went on to win several laurels. In 2018, she came second in the Asian Para Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Funding has been a major hurdle for Sakina all along. For a long time, she was unable to cater to her nutritional and training needs. It was the Welspun group, one of the leading conglomerates in India that came forward to sponsor her when the going got tough. Under the training facilitated by them, she was able to attend the Olympic Test Event that took place in September 2019.
Sakina Khatun had to undergo a bitter experience with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) before she got selected for Tokyo Paralympics, 2020. The pandemic already had inflicted its share of problems, and despite, she used to practice at the SAI gym until the lockdown was initiated.
However, quarantine and pandemic restrictions unpacked a new range of obstacles for her to get into the SAI premise again. The athlete as well as her personal coach Farman Basha repeatedly appealed to the SAI to let her back into the SAI campus for coaching. Sakina did not wait to begin her practice till she got approval from SAI. Although compromised within limited resources, she regularly practiced at her home gym. However, she was able to get back to the SAI campus later in the year.
Sakina’s joy knew no bounds when she was selected for powerlifting at the Tokyo Paralympics, 2020. “It’s a dream come true to qualify for the Paralympics. I have been working hard for the last two years. Now that the qualification has come, I will give my best to win a medal at the Games”, she says.
Sakina Khatun is the first Indian female powerlifter to make the cut for the Paralympics. As the whole country keenly looks forward to Sakina’s event, she is confident and all game to lift herself to glory.
Featured Image Source: Scroll.in