When she is not training, Sonam, the 18-year-old new youth national record holder in 2,000 metres steeplechase, delivers parcels door-to-door in Delhi’s Kotla Mubarakpur area. Her father works in a brick kiln in Bulandshahr, and her mother is a farm labourer.
It has been a journey of battling odds. From a one-room house in a Dalit settlement in Hurthala village in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh, to the top of the podium at the Khelo India Youth Games in Bhopal with her record-breaking run of 6 minutes and 45.71 seconds.
After her return home from Bhopal, she was taken on a 5-km victory parade to her village in an open-top jeep, where she garlanded a statue of BR Ambedkar as her family stood beside her.
It was difficult to put food on the table for the large family which depended on her father’s Rs 300 daily wage.
Sonam’s mother, Kashmiri Devi, works two jobs – on the farm and looking after buffaloes. “I would often sleep with an empty stomach. When the price of potatoes fell, my mother would buy them in bulk. She would boil and dry them in the sun so that they lasted longer,” said Sonam.
The 18-year-old was bitten by the running bug when she watched boys from her village train for the Army. Her father, Vir Singh, saw it as a window of opportunity for Sonam.
So, four years ago, Sonam moved to her uncle’s house in Ghaziabad, where she started training at the local stadium with an active athlete. But strict rules on who could train at the stadium proved to be a hurdle, and moving to Delhi was the only option.
She faced another curveball when the pandemic hit. The brick kiln her father used to work at shut down temporarily.
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