Pooja Bishnoi was just three years old when she fell far behind during a race with some boys. “I was playing one evening and noticed some boys running in the area. I expressed my wish of running with the boys to my uncle Sarwan. They arranged a playful race. I lost. And immediately told my uncle to teach me running,” says Pooja.
“It was 2014, and Pooja ran well. I saw it. But she still lost the race. That is when I thought, with some training, she could perform well,” says her 21-year-old maternal uncle Sarwan Budiya, living in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Sarwan was an athlete himself, associated with the Sports Authority of India, Jodhpur. But he was forced to give up his sport after a severe hamstring injury.
After a month of training, Sarwan made Pooja run with the boys again. “The closest boy chasing her was 20 metres away,” Sarwan said.
From that simple start, Pooja would go on to make us all proud, with her many achievements, despite only being 10 years old now.
Roadrunner to athlete
In 2017, at the age of six, Pooja covered 10 km in 48 minutes for a Jodhpur marathon. She also became famous for flaunting six-pack abs at that tender age.
Looking at her training videos and impressed by her initial achievements, in January 2019, the Virat Kohli Foundation extended support to her.
“We approached the manager of the Virat Kohli Foundation. After a detailed inquiry, they decided to support her,” Sarwan said.
Tushar Nair, talent manager at the Foundation said, “Sarwan approached and when we checked the profile, Pooja was quite impressive. The thing that stood out for the athlete was her clarity of thought and intent to achieve a big goal.”
Tushar said that Pooja’s achievements are commendable and she has a promising future. “We definitely think she has the potential to win a gold at the Olympics and we are building an ecosystem to support her,” he added.
In November 2019, Pooja ran 3 km in 12.50 minutes, an Under-14 World Record, which she achieved at the Sportygo tournament in Delhi. Pooja has also won gold medals in the 3,000 meters, 1,500 meters and 800 metres category.
Sarwan, now officially her coach, says the situation was not so good a year ago. “Pooja was born in Guda Bishnoiyan village near Jodhpur. Pooja’s parents live away, and my family raises Pooja. I worked at a friend’s shop as a business manager to support her dietary needs and trained her,” he adds.
Speaking to The Better India, Pooja’s coach said the duo struggled financially a lot. “Pooja’s parents are traditional farmers and cannot support the high cost of her training. My niece was confident and did not shy away from hard training. But finances made progress difficult,” he added.
Strict training regime
Pooja says that her routine includes waking up at 3 am every day to train. This continues until 7 or 8 am. The girl then attends school (or online classes these days), takes rest in the afternoon and trains again in the evening.
“I have a strict diet to follow involving dry fruits, fruits, proteins and no social life. I attend online classes to keep up with my academics and sleep at 10 pm,” Pooja told The Better India.
“I am preparing to compete at the Youth Olympics, scheduled to be held in 2024 and I want to win a gold for the country,” Pooja said.
When asked why Sarwan was so heavily invested in his niece, he said, “I lost my career due to an injury. Initially, when Pooja succeeded, I thought of fulfilling my dream to win a medal for the country through her becoming a successful athlete.”
Sarwan says that Pooja’s mother (his sister) also sacrificed a lot and supported him during his athletic days. “My sister supported my nutrition and also fought to let me continue with sports as my career. This is my way of repaying her,” he adds.
All eyes on gold
“When I started training Pooja, the aim was to fulfil my unfinished dream. But now it has changed to winning an Olympic gold medal for the country,” Sarwan adds.
Speaking about maintaining such a heavy physical workout at such a young age, and the possibility of it having adverse effects on the body, Maitreyi Bokil, a sports-nutritionist based in Pune said, “It largely depends on what her diet is like. Her parents or guardians should ensure she is eating good fat (nuts, seeds, nuts, different kinds of butter) and overall, eating a balanced diet will support her physical activity.”
Maitreyi said that eating well will ensure she maintains her body fat stores, which are necessary to start Menarche (periods), prevent vitamin D deficiencies and give her enough energy to exercise.
Here’s hoping she makes us all very proud soon.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)