Olympics-From firewood to barbells, no burden is too heavy for India's Mirabai


FILE PHOTO: Asian Games - Hangzhou 2022 - Weightlifting - Xiaoshan Sports Centre Gymnasium, Hangzhou, China - September 30, 2023 India's Mirabai Chanu Saikhom in action REUTERS/Ann Wang

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Mirabai Chanu believes she will need to lift at least four times her current weight of 50kgs to stand a chance of winning a second Olympic medal at Paris 2024 and she will have to do it with a battered body after a disrupted buildup.

Yet India's elite weightlifter, whose rags-to-riches story remains an inspiration for others and a source of motivation for herself, has never shirked a challenge.

"Beyond the material changes, winning a medal at the Olympics brings an immense sense of self-belief," Mirabai told Reuters from her training base in the north Indian city of Patiala.

"A belief that if I can achieve a silver medal against all odds, there are no limits to what I can do if I remain dedicated and resilient."

The 29-year-old comes from a village in the northeastern state of Manipur, where her father worked as a construction worker and her mother ran a roadside tea stall.

Youngest of six siblings, Mirabai did the heavy lifting, literally, in her childhood when she scoured the local forest for firewood.

During one of their forest trips, her brother, four years her senior, could not lift one bundle but she hauled it up and carried it home on her head.

Her mother decided Mirabai would be better off showcasing her strength in weightlifting than by performing domestic chores.

"I used to help my siblings and parents in carrying firewood and fetch water from distant places," Mirabai recalled.

"That's how my mother realised that I have an innate strength and suggested I take up weightlifting. It was completely by chance."

Yet the nearest training facility was some 20km away in Imphal and commuting posed a challenge.

FREE TRUCK RIDES

It was a group of truckers who came to the rescue, offering her free rides every day as they carried river sands to the city.

After winning the silver medal in Tokyo, Mirabai gathered 150 of them for lunch and presented them with gifts.

"The truck drivers played an important role in getting me where I am today," she said.

"It was my humble way of acknowledging their contribution. They made sure I reached my training sessions on time no matter what."

A world champion and a twice Commonwealth Games winner, Mirabai is India's most successful lifter but injuries have disrupted her progress in recent years.

She has hurt her wrist, shoulder and lower back at different stages of her career and had to be carried off the stage at the Hangzhou Asian Games last year following a hip injury.

She has had just three competitions in the last 18 months.

"Setbacks and injuries are frustrating. But one thing I have learned over the years is to focus on your goal and remain positive.

"My mother tells me not to think about stuff which is not under my control. The preparation for Paris has been good and steady."

Mirabai, who is managed by IOS Sports & Entertainment, is currently training under coach Vijay Sharma to regain her strength and is confident of breaching the 200kg mark in Paris.

"There's going to be a tough competition in my weight category but Vijay Sir and I believe that a medal is achievable if I lift more than 200kgs."

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Toby Davis)

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