Hima Das, the young Indian sprinter, came to limelight recently when bagged 5 gold medals at the Poznan Athletics Grand Prix (200m), Kutno Athletics Meet (200m), Kladno Athletics Meet (200m), Tabor Athletics Meet (200m), and a 400-meter race in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. She was rightfully bestowed with the Arjuna Award by the President of India and appointed as India’s first-ever youth ambassador of UNICEF.
Here’s the full story of the prodigious sprinter, Hima Das
The First Steps
As the youngest of five siblings, Hima Das was born in a family of farmers near Kandhulimari village (Assam). Despite her initial interest in playing football, she started training for sprint running after being encouraged by Shamshul Sheikh, her school physical education teacher. During an inter-district meet, Nipon Das and Nabajit Malakar, one of the most experienced coaches with the Assam Athletic Association, immediately recognized her “raw speed”—something that was exceptionally rare to come by in other athletes.
“I knew the first time I saw Hima run that I had never seen somebody without training to be so advanced. And I knew she would go very far,” he told The Bridge. “I have seen many athletes aiming to be the best in their state or the best in the country or the best in their age category. Hima has no such thing. Whatever target is set before her, she says, ‘leave it to me, I can do it’. And then she goes and does it.”
How It All Started
In 2017, the duo approached Das’ family and offered to train her in Guwahati. After the green light from her father, who was supportive as long as “she was fed three times a day”—Pratul Sharma, a local doctor, quickly took it upon himself to raise funds to cover her lodging for the future national record holder.
Once Hima Das began her formal training, Nipon was amazed by Das’ natural talent and learning potential. Within a month, she exceeded the expectations of her coach(es). She also established herself as hopeful (and an aggressive!) contender for the upcoming races across the country and the world.
In February’18, Hima Das qualified for the Youth (U-18) Nationals in Hyderabad where she won a bronze in the 100m and a silver in the 200m. Based on her timing (24.85 seconds in the 200m event), Das made an appearance at the Asian Youth Championships in Bangkok. There she finished seventh.
Shortly after, she finished fifth at the World Youth Championships in Nairobi with 24.31 seconds on the clock. And so, Hima Das became the first Indian to bag a medal in a track event. Based on her exceptional performance, she was selected to attend the senior national camp in Patiala for further sprint training.
Das’ journey to illustrious stardom was not an easy one. She often trained barefoot, or in cheap spikes, while trying to keep up with her education. After her success in the 200m races, Nipon pushed her to focus on training for quarter-mile (400m). Considered as one of the most challenging track events, the 400m thoroughly tests an athlete’s speed, endurance, and tactics. “Sprint runners don’t find it easy to run the 400m. After 350m, once lactic acid builds up in your muscles, it is agonizing to run,” N Ramesh told ESPN. He currently coaches Dutee Chand, professional Indian sprinter and the national champion in the women’s 100m.
In the Federation Cup that year, Das clinched a gold medal for her 400m sprint. She completed it in 51.97 seconds—qualifying for the Commonwealth Games squad. For the then 18-year old, this was the biggest achievement of her career in tracks at the time. She comfortably stunned the Asian Games medallist M.R. Poovamma. “Her biggest strength is that she simply doesn’t worry about what’s happening in the other lanes,” Malakar said. “People ask her, ‘Aren’t you worried if the person next to you is a national champion?’ The fact is she doesn’t even know who the national champion or world champion is because she has just been competing at any level for a year.”
On the other hand, Nipon, constantly in awe of her grit and determination on the field, admitted how he never predicts her wins or losses. “I never expected her to go from a village to the Commonwealth Games in less than two years. When she told me about her preparations for the Federation Cup, I said she must try to run faster and she replied that she will run in 49 seconds very soon. She has no worries about how hard that is. She simply believes in herself that she can. And then she does it.”
Hima Das At The Commonwealth Games
In the Commonwealth Games, Das was placed sixth in the 400m, and seventh in 4x400m relay event. Despite missing out on a podium finish, she continued to be unstoppable at the World U-20 Championships 2018 (Tampere, Finland), where she became the first Indian sprinter in an international track event to bring the gold home. After starting slow, Das sprinted through the finish line in a dramatic fashion in the last 100m, overtaking her three most prominent competitors in the race.
For a lot of people, this was the first time they were hearing of Das, but that didn’t faze the athlete in the slightest. At the 2018 Asian Games, she broke the Indian national record twice by clocking 51.00s and then, 50.79s in the 400m qualifications—the event in which she finally bagged a silver. Alongside M. R. Poovamma, V. K. Vismaya, and Sarita Gayakwad, she also won the gold in women’s 4 × 400m relays.
And of course, there are all the laurels she brought home this year.
The Road Ahead
Now, she has an Adidas endorsement deal waiting for her. In a statement, the company announced that they’d be catering to all her athletic footwear requirements from then onwards. They even presented Das with a custom-made shoe. Additionally, she was bestowed with the Arjuna Award by the President of Indi. She has also been appointed as India’s first-ever youth ambassador of UNICEF. The Indian government also offered her ‘end-to-end’ funding for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sprinting For Fitness
Despite the many benefits of sprinting, as opposed to other forms of physical exercises, sprinting has never been the first choice for fitness freaks in India. Apart from regulating fat-burning hormones and boosting metabolism, sprinting actively strengthens cardiovascular muscles and improves the overall blood circulation. Not to mention, all you need to start sprint training is a pair of good running shoes and at least 100m track space. If you’re someone with long working hours, sprinting is the perfect alternative to equipment and time-dependent workout sessions.