It’s a story that could have borrowed some of its plot from a Bollywood movie, but audiences might have scoffed at the improbable ending Krishna Poonia achieved in real life.
A script containing some classic storytelling themes — poor rural upbringing, family tragedy, arranged marriages and political ambitions — was afforded its defining element when Poonia put in an historic performance at the Commonwealth Games held in 2010.
In the entire 80-year history of the quadrennial sporting jamboree, no Indian female had ever claimed gold in a track and field event until Poonia snatched a momentous victory in the women’s discus.
Her winning throw of 61.51 meters led an Indian clean sweep in the event (compatriots Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil took silver and bronze respectively) and also ensured India’s first win in the athletics stadium since the runner Milkha Singh, known as “The Flying Sikh,” had taken gold in the men’s 440 yards at the Games held in Cardiff, Wales way back in 1958.
“I can never forget that moment when I won the gold medal and when I took the victory lap with the flag,” Poonia told CNN’s Human to Hero series.
“For four years I was seeing the moment in my dreams and now I was finally seeing it in reality,” she added wiping away tears from her eyes.
Poonia could be forgiven for welling up given her journey from provincial backwater to a packed stadium in New Delhi.
Born in the small town of Agroha in the state of Haryana, Poonia was brought up in by her father and grandmother after her mother died when she was just nine years old.
Living among the Jat people — a traditional agricultural community in northern India — Poonia recalls a childhood where physical fitness was honed working the land not at play on a sports field.
“Most people are agriculturalist and their routine is to get up early and feed the livestock and after breakfast they leave for the fields,” she explains.
“My family had a milk dairy and we had around 70-80 buffalo. The work of the milking was only done by the family … and when I was (15-16 years old) I would help, milking seven to eight buffaloes in one go.”
School afforded something of a respite from this routine as well as providing an outlet for her growing interest in sport which was exercised further as she continued her formal education.