Most people would only have faint recollections of their first bicycle but for Mahita Mohan, the memory of it is crystal clear.
“It was a maroon BSA Ladybird cycle, which my parents, P.K. Mohan and Valsamma V.D., gave me when I was in the third standard,” she says. She also recalls her brother, Santhanu P. Mohan teaching her how to pedal her bicycle. “He was extremely protective and would hold on to the cycle until I felt confident enough for him to let go.” And soon, there was no stopping her. She was pedalling her way to the top.
An international cyclist, Mahita is a familiar face in the cycling circuit. She has won Kerala several National medals and came in sixth in Women's Sprint at last year's Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Delhi.
A native of Thodupuzha, Mahita's ride to the top began when she was a child. “I was an athletic kid and loved to ride my cycle. I would often head for my school ground (NSS Higher Secondary School, Manacaud, Thodupuzha) to practise and would also ride to school and to nearby shops. I was particular about looking after my cycle and would clean it as soon as there was a hint of dirt on it.”
Although she would participate in her school cycling events and other local competitions, the competitive streak in her took shape when she realised cycling, her first love, could be a profession.
“Back home, one only heard of cricket, athletics and the like in the news. I never knew cycling was an event in the sporting arena.” It was Chandran Chettiar, a cycling coach from the Sports Authority of India who encouraged her to enter the field.
“He was my first coach. He told me that I could make cycling my profession and that was it. The rest is history. I was soon participating in the National Games.”
Her first National Games was in Hyderabad in 2002 when she was barely 15. Although she did not have much experience cycling in a velodrome, she did not let it dampen her spirits.
“I like to keep my eye on the goal and did not let other stuff bother me too much,” says Mahita who has won the State a medal or two in every National Games from 2002 till date.
The 23-year-old cyclist is currently training in the city under Usha T. Nair, a coach of Sports Authority of India (SAI) at the Lakshmibai National College of Physical Education at Karyavattom.
Says her coach: “Mahita is extremely focussed and has her head on her shoulder. Recently at the National Games in Jharkand, she took a spill during a Scratch race. Most athletes would lose hope. Mahita however picked up her cycle, gave it her best and won a gold.”
But although Mahita is now riding high, the journey to the top has been an uphill one. Unlike other sports, nothing much has been done for the development of cycling in the country.
“Other countries give equal importance to all sports. Here, it is unfortunately limited to a few. My cycling equipment costs Rs. 2.5 lakhs (from her own pocket) while international level competitors ride on equipment costing Rs. 10 lakhs and above. A good track bicycle makes a difference.”
Mahita is grateful to SAI for the intensive training she is currently receiving.
“I attended several international camps prior to the CWG. In fact, I was in Australia for a month. I also participated in the South Asian Games, in which I won two golds.”
Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Computer Application in addition to her degree in Physics, Mahita is looking for a Government job under the sports quota. “I have applied for a post, let's see.”
So, what next? “To win gold medals for the country.” And with that glint of steely determination in her eyes, you believe her.