Raising the bar is not a difficult task for young high jumper Sunita Hembram, a Class VII student of Subhasganj High School in Raiganj.
From a poor family, Sunita surmounted daily hardships to strike gold at the state-level school games in Calcutta. The 59th West Bengal School Athletics Championships was held at the Sports Authority of India grounds in Salt Lake, Calcutta, in December.
Still, there is a tinge of helplessness in the voice of Sunita’s father, Mangal Hembram, a resident of Samaspur, 10km from Raiganj. A farm labourer who has to perform back-breaking work every day, Mangal feels troubled by his daughter’s success.
He doesn’t know how to sustain it.
“I could not give my daughter a single rupee during her trip to Calcutta. It was her schoolteachers who helped her with money during the trip. I am happy that she won a gold medal, but what next? My daughter was always good at sports. But I do not have the means to support her in developing her skills,” Mangal says.
Since Class V, Sunita has been staying at the girls’ hostel at her school with the accommodation being financed under the state’s tribal welfare scheme.
Sunita’s heart’s desire is to pursue athletics, especially improve her skills as a high jumper and take part in bigger meets.
“This is the first time that I won gold at the Calcutta games organised by the West Bengal State Council of School Games and Sports. I now want to become a better high jumper. For that, I need better coaching and sponsors. My parents are very poor, but I am sure that I will get assistance from some quarter so that I can succeed in bigger games and athletic meets,” said the 12-year-old.
Bandita Sarkar, the headmistress of the school, said that from the very beginning, she and other teachers had been impressed by Sunita.
“She has made our school proud by winning the gold medal in the school games. The teaching staff raises money for her and we have even appointed a coach who is paid from the school funds to train her. Sunita’s father is too poor to help her on his own. We are pleased that Sunita’s achievement has inspired many other students to pay attention to sports and games,” said Sarkar.
Sunita is provided with clothes and sports shoes by the headmistress and other teachers.
Sanjib Yadav, Sunita’s coach, said he was moved by the dedication of the little girl.
“I have been coaching her for the past one year. She comes to the school grounds for training five days a week. Sunita practises one hour each in the morning and after the classes. She crossed a height of 1.32 metres to bag the gold medal in the games in Calcutta. I feel that if she gets better facilities for training from the government, she can further develop her skills,” Yadav said.