Swapna Barman has dealt with injuries and physical pain throughout her professional career. With six toes in both her feet, the athlete decided to pursue a career in heptathlon, a gruelling athletics event consisting of seven competitions – 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 m sprint, long jump, javelin throw and 800m sprint – stretched across two days. Speaking to reporters at an Adidas event in New Delhi on Friday, Barman explained why her coach Subhas Sarkar thought she should pursue heptathlon instead of individual events.
“My body was not suitable for high jump. I knew how to long jump before. My coach thought that if I could learn how to do javelin and shot put, I could do better in heptathlon, than in any one particular event. Everyone told me that I have a strong body and I could sustain the physical demands. So my coach changed my event,” she said.
In 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Barman pulled off a stunning gold medal win, while undergoing a tooth infection, which caused swelling in her jaw. Still with antibiotic injections, and a Kinesio tape around her jaw, she competed in all the seven events of heptathlon to become India’s first Asiad gold medalist in the event.
This year, the West Bengal athlete went on to win a silver in Doha Asian Athletics Championships while undergoing injuries in her back and knees. Currently away from the sport to regain her fitness, Barman is focusing on rehabilitation work to bring movement back in injured areas.
“Since it’s an off-season for me, most of my focus is on rehab and not taking too much load in training. Right now I am maintaining my fitness and trying to correct my technique in technical events like javelin and shot put. I am working on leg and back strengthening, but not so much on my back issues. Even when I am not injured, I will continue my rehab as I feel it keeps me fit,” she said.
Barman was mulling to undergo a surgical operation to remove a meniscus tear in her knee after Asian Athletics back in May. But recently, she decided not to do the surgery. “My doctor suggested that the injury is stable in nature and if I continue the rehab regularly then I can recover. Of course, I will not be recovering 100 per cent from it but the rehab is helping me not feeling any pain during training,” she said.
The 22-year-old, who was recently conferred the Arjuna Award, is planning to regain her fitness before she begins training for the Tokyo Olympics next year. “I am not at my 100 per cent yet. Once I am fit enough I will try my best to qualify for Olympics, if my luck is good enough, I will get through,” she said.
Swapna’s personal best score is 6,026, which is lower than the steep Olympics qualification mark of 6,420. The Olympic qualification will be decided on the basis of ranking points in international events from January to June next year. Swapna says that she plans to participate in multiple events to keep her IAAF ranking higher, which could be an alternative route for her to qualify for Tokyo.