By Stephen Bourdeau on 07/09/09 at 1:40 pm
Two years ago I received a call from a sixteen-year old girl named Pooja Chaurushi requesting me to give her tips on bicycles for a triathlon race. I was pleasantly surprised. How did you find me? was my first question. She told me that a bicycle shop owner said, Theres only one person in Surat, a city of 3 million people, who can advise you on a road bike for racing.
I asked her to visit my house the next day as she was to leave for a triathlon race at 2007 National Games two days later. She and her father Naresh showed me their new bicycle proudly, which they had bought from the bike shop. I was taken aback to see that it was an inexpensive US$200 (most utility bikes in India cost less than US$60) steel mountain bike with fat tires. I had two expensive specialized road bicycles, but I was hesitant to let her use mine as they were strangers to me. I finally fitted her MTB with two spare 700 x 23c racing wheels, gave her a pump, a tire and a presta tube. I advised them to pump in 100 lbs of air before the race. Finally I wished her good luck wondering how this girl got into the sport of triathlon, almost unknown in India. At this time it was unimaginable that shed be competing at the 2009 ITU Triathlon World Championships, on the Gold Coast, Australia, as a Junior Elite Woman.
After a few days to my amazement, I saw her pictures on the front pages of all newspapers. The title was The first woman from Gujarat State to win the Elite Woman Triathlon race at National Games 2007. On arrival from Gauhati (eastern India) after a two-day train journey, she told me that most people had had expensive bikes but she had beaten them all. At the station a lot of people asked me what a triathlon was. When I talked to my friends, I was surprised to find that most of them had not heard of the sport before (now many people know about it).
Later, I found out how shed got into Triathlon. First, it was swimming and at the age of nine she won state level medals. Her parents encouraged her to do more training. Then at 12 she started winning senior category swimming competition in the state and when she won an aquathlon in 2006, someone suggested she try triathlon too. She borrowed a 22kg utility bike (US$50) from a laborer and won gold in the triathlon race at 2006 Junior National Games.
With two gold medals she was hooked on Triathlon. She again won gold at 2008 17th National Triathlon Competition at Vizag, but this time with my Specialized carbon bike. I flew a long way to watch and was impressed. Gujarat State is not particularly interested in sport compared to other states of India (although in fact India is not a great sporting nation except for cricket). Most women are not at all interested in sports, especially in Gujarat, but this young teenager didnt bother about any peer pressure.
She was selected by Indian Triathlon Federation for the Asian Championships in China in 2008 before the Olympics, but they could neither manage to raise funds nor organise the visa. This was one of the biggest disappointments in Poojas life. Her parents approached me for help, but it was too late. I saw tears in her eyes and was convinced that I must do something for her.
I talked to my wife about taking her to Amakusa, Japan for a 2008 ITU Asian Cup and she immediately agreed. I went on the ITU web site and found out about rules and entry procedures to enter her. It was a Herculean task to enter her and get our visa within a short time.
After returning from Japan, I talked to her and her parents that I would be her mentor and manager. The condition was that they should make a long term commitment to the sport and to me. They couldnt understand my objective or motive. I explained to them that I was doing this because of my passion for sport and certainly making money is not my objective at 58. Finally, they trusted me. She went racing at Singapore in 2008, where she missed bronze by only a few seconds.
In India, most children give up competitive sport before 12th grade, which is a final year of school. Good marks are important for getting admission in a good university in order make a decent living in your later life. We in India know that one cannot make two ends meet as a sports person except some top cricketers. Pooja could get into a good University to do an IT major based on a reserved place for a sports person.
She was back into her training preparation for the 2009 ITU Asian Cup in Kokshetau, Kazakstan, where she won bronze despite an ankle injury a week before. This was her first continental cup medal and the first for India in many, many years.
She had a dream to go to Australia for training as well as racing because she knew that many of the top triathletes are from there. We applied for a scholarship to ITU for Under23 and Junior athletes that are available to the developing world but involving a lot of paper work. We also applied to the national federations to enter her in the Gold Coast world championships
There was no end to her happiness when I informed her that it was accepted by ITU officials and shell be going to her dream place - Australia and would be racing.
POOJAS DREAM HAS FINALLY COME TRUE!
Pooja Chaurushi (IND) #25
Junior Elite Competitor
Written by Rajen Shah coach, manager and mentor
Editors Note: Pooja is one of many young and talented athletes attending the 2009 ITU Sport Development World Junior Camp in Gold Coast prior to the world championships. To find out more about the World Camp keep checking triathlon.org for updates.
Find more details about this event - 2009 Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU World Championship Grand Final Gold Coast