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Girl on the run

UTHRA GANESAN
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Chat Shabnam Shokeen recounts her training stint with Sharon Hannan

Small girl, big dreamsShabnam Shokeen with her coach Surender FaujiPhoto: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
Small girl, big dreamsShabnam Shokeen with her coach Surender FaujiPhoto: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Shabnam Shokeen loves running but her village fields were her limits. On April 27, she boarded a flight to Australia, for a 10-day long training stint in the most sports-friendly country under one of the best coaches in the world.

A resident of Deenpur village in Najafgarh on the outskirts of Delhi, Shabnam got this chance through a talent hunt programme. Only five kids made the trip. The kids trained under Sharon Hannan – the Australian athletics coach and mentor to Sally Pearson, gold medallist at London Olympics.

“Pata hai, sab kuch hi alag tha wahan. Everyone was fair and everything was so different – the food, the weather, the people, the city. Even mornings and evenings came at a different time,” Shabnam told The Hindu . The words came out in a rush, the 12-year-old jumping out of the chair as she spoke, brimming with excitement.

Till then, Shabnam, with her local coach Surender Fauji – a retired BSF personnel – and father Azad Shokeen in tow, had been a tentative speaker. A class 7th student of Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Dharampura, she made the cut when her coach registered her for the Delhi leg of the talent hunt.

The event, organised by KOOH Sports across 12 cities, was open for all in three categories – under 12, 14 and 16. One winner each from boys and girls category was shortlisted from every centre for the finale in Mumbai on February 10, from where the final six winners were selected. Approximately 15,000 children participated in the event, held under the aegis of the Athletics Federation of India.

Shabnam won in Delhi and then won again in the finale, emerging the fastest sprinter over 100m in the under-12 category. That was when she was told that the winners will get to go to Australia. “Hame to pata hi nahi tha. Phir jeetne ke baad unhone bola ki aapko Australia jana hai, passport banwa lo apna,” she said, wide-eyed, reliving the feeling.

Taking about the trip, Shabnam was animated. “We were taught a lot of things. Ma’am (Hannan) told us how to warm-up, how to stretch even during warm-ups, how to prepare for the start, how to adjust our body during the start, the run and the finish. She also told us about the body movements, the actions.”

Taking of her stint Down Under, she recalls, “Sally ma’am also gave us tips. She ran in front of us then explained how the movement of every body part affects the overall run. Sir batate the ki haath kaise move karna hai, head kaise rakhna hai par Sally ma’am ne kar ke dikhaya. She told us that only raw speed cannot help you win a race; your entire body has to move as one to get best results without injuries.”

For the record, a one hour personal training session with Hannan costs A$120.

The one thing she misses back home is Hannan. “Ma’am was very patient and very good. She would explain everything in detail twice, thrice – not only what needs to be done but also why it needs to be done. I miss her,” she said. The visit has also changed her attitude to physical fitness and education. According to her father and coach, she has always been a precocious kid but this experience has made her more mature. “She saw people of every age group being involved in some physical activity or the other and she now keeps telling people in the village and her own family to get out and get fit. At the same time, she realised her handicap in not being able to talk to people because of lack of English. She has now decided to concentrate more on her studies also,” Fauji said. In the long run, Shabnam said, she wishes to represent India at the Olympics “like Sally ma’am”. For now, she is content bullying her younger brother into racing with her across the fields.

UTHRA GANESAN

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