If you were to enter Punam Yadav’s home in Dandupur, Benaras, you’d be amazed at how every room or wall is adorned with medals, shields and certificates the weightlifting champion has won over the years.
The only thing missing though was a gold medal, her mother, Urmila Yadav said speaking to Amar Ujala. But not anymore.
Punam Yadav set the country’s flag sailing high as she clinched a gold medal lifting 122 kg in the Clean and Jerk category at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia on Friday.
Punam had already won a bronze medal in the 63kg category at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and silver in the 2017 Commonwealth Championship in the 69 kg category.
Her lift at CWG 2018 was a personal best of 222kg (110kg+122kg) beating England’s Sarah Davies who finished with 217kg (95kg+122kg) and attempted a 128kg lift in her final clean and jerk attempt, which Davis lost.
This win also made Yadav the third woman to win gold for India in the women’s 69 kg category at the CWG 2018.
But the road to winning gold for the Benaras girl was anything but easy.
The weightlifter, who started her career in 2011, apart from beating some of the world’s best athletes to clinch gold, learned to beat poverty too.
The daughter of a small-time farmer, Kailash Yadav, Punam grew up lending a helping hand to her parents as they toiled in the field. From tilling the soil to feeding cattle, Punam did it all!
But her parents always knew, Punam, the fifth among five daughters and two sons, wanted to do something different.
Kailash recalls how Karnman Malleswari, who is also the first Indian woman to have won an individual Olympic medal (bronze) at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was Punam’s biggest inspiration to take up weightlifting.
Speaking to News18 Kailash says, “When Karnman Malleswari won Bronze for the country, I wanted my daughter to win a medal for the country too. She started training in 2011. She was so good, she would manage to find time for household chores and farm work in addition to her training.”
He expresses how their underprivileged background did not allow them even to afford the diet Punam required during her training. So, there were several nights where an exhausted Punam would return from a day of heavy training just to sleep on an empty stomach.
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“But it wasn’t long until her guru, Swami Agdanand, sent her to social worker Satish Fauji, who helped her with finances. She started receiving Rs. 20,000 a month to spend on her training,” Kailash added.
After three years of intense training to become an international weightlifter, when Punam finally got a chance to represent India at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, her parents lacked the fund to support her dreams. But they stood undeterred.
At the time, Kailash made the painful decision of selling their family buffalo and even borrowing money from his friends and family to fund Punam’s trip. Needless, to say his daughter did not disappoint him as she clinched bronze that year.
“When Punam won a medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I didn’t even have enough money to distribute sweets. People used to taunt us when our girl went out to play. Today they greet us with respect,” says Punam’s mother, Urmila Yadav.
Punam, who is now a household name in Benaras, has successfully cleared all of her family debt and even built a home on her own.
She works as a senior Ticket Collector in the Indian Railways and is currently posted at the Varanasi Cantt. Railway Station. While her brothers Ashutosh and Abhishek are national-level hockey players, Punam’s sisters Shashi and Pooja, who started as weightlifters eventually quit due to their family’s weak financial background.
Despite the spectacular world stage win, Punam continues to stay grounded.
“My father took a loan at that time to support my training but now we repaid that after my medal. He doesn’t do anything apart from pooja paath at home and my mother is a housewife. Me and my sister, we run the finances of our house. We are a normal financially stable family. We were not that great some years ago. But we are alright now. I am working with the Indian Railways now,” she told News18.
It is indeed a proud moment for her parents who fought every difficulty life threw their way not to let Punam give up her dream in the face of abysmal poverty.
UP CM Yogi Adityanath has now announced a cash prize of Rs 50 lakh for Yadav and even offered her the post of a gazetted officer. Punam’s family was elated when the District magistrate came home with sweets wishing her a successful future ahead.
Punam’s rise to becoming a global icon is an inspirational saga for the youth of India to inspire them to chase their dreams. It reminds of a few lines from the poem, which has over the years became a beam of hope for many individuals fighting battles of their own.
“The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are –
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.”
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)