|Manjusri Banerjee with some of her medals at her Bidhan Sarani residence; (right) at The Telegraph School Awards 2013.
Pictures: Bishwarup Dutta and Rashbehari Das
She had never stepped on a running track till she was 60, but there’s no stopping her since. In the past eight years, the retired chemistry teacher has won many medals at various championships and even made it to the World Masters for veteran runners.
Athletics happened to Manjusri Banerjee a few months before her retirement from Ramjoy Seal Sishu Pathshala in north Calcutta, only for it to “reveal the P.T. Usha in me”, she smiled.
“I never knew I could run other than participating in sports when in school. Back in 1968, when I was doing my MSc from Kalyani University, I had borrowed my roommate’s salwar kurta to participate in 100m. I came first, but that was the end of it,” recalled Banerjee.
More than four decades later, her modest two-room house on Bidhan Sarani boasts medals and certificates galore, all won over the past eight years.
On Saturday, Banerjee was a special guest at The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence at the Science City auditorium, handing over scholarships to several young boys and girls. “This stage is giving the right recognition to the right people,” she said.
Her track-and-field debut happened during a district tournament in North 24-Parganas in February 2005, which she had gone to watch. “I took part for the fun of it, but ended up competing against several runners who had come prepared with spiked shoes and proper gear. I came second in both the 100 and 200 metres and many veteran athletes told me to take up running seriously,” said Banerjee
She started practising in Hedua and then graduated to “spiked shoes” at Deshbandhu Park. She participated in the state meet at Yuva Bharati Krirangan and won in 200m and 400m. “That opened the gates of possibilities for me.”
At the SAI complex, Banerjee started from the “ABC of athletics” and requested coach Kartik Nath to teach her the very basics — jogging and stretching.
In May 2006, she participated in the All India Masters Athletics Championships and won gold in 100m and 200m.
Though officially retired by then, Banerjee still had to go to school, either filling in for vacancies or correcting Madhyamik and Higher Secondary papers. But she took all that in her stride and kept running.
Starting in 2006, she’s participated in the Asia Masters Athletic Championship thrice and also travelled to Italy and California for the World Masters Athletic Championships.
Banerjee shows no signs of slowing down, winning one gold and three silver medals in the Annual (Open) Championships 2013 in Sri Lanka.
The one thing that can slow down this 68-year-old sprinter is lack of sponsorship. “I try to arrange for funds but it’s difficult. I cannot go to Brazil in November for the world athletic meet because I cannot raise Rs 2 lakh,” she said.
Banerjee can give up on a few tournaments but she cannot give up hope. Her next target? A medal haul at the Asian Championship in Japan in 2014.
Her parting shot? “Winning medals is like an addiction now.”