Jyoti Gawte is not a name many people in Indian sports are familiar with. She was the person who clocked her personal best of 2:50:53 to be the first Indian athlete to finish the Mumbai Marathon for the second time in her career. Despite winning the event, however, there was no joy on the face of the 29-year-old long distance runner.
Gawte has been here before. After winning the Mumbai Marathon for the first time in 2011, she expected her family’s financial situation to improve with any employment opportunities. But this did not happen. Her father, a ‘safai karamchari’ at a local bank, was the one taking up the financial burden of the family. But he has since retired. Her elder brother, who works in the police is now posted in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra – a Naxalite area. “There’s always a danger over there, and our mother keeps fearing for him,” she says.
Until last year, she used to live in a wooden hut. “The wood used to keep chipping, and it was expensive to replace,” explains Ravi Raqatla, her coach who discovered her talent at a young age and has been guiding her since. “From all her savings and from what her elder brother in the police keeps sending, the family has finally built a pakka two-storey house.” Whatever prize money she gets from competing in marathons all over the country, she uses to sustain her diet, purchase running shoes, and support her family.
Despite representing India twice, once at the Pattaya Marathon in 2011 and the 42.195 km event at the SAF Games in Guwahati last year, she has given up hope on a call-up to the Indian national camp, which would help her improve her training techniques and perhaps improve her timings.
Her colleagues in the athletics field, like Sudha Singh, OP Jaisha and Lalita Babar, who have recorded better timings have the luxury of a better financial situation with the aid of the government jobs. At 29 though, she has seemingly grown accustomed to not expecting too much. “It’s better that I don’t get my hopes up this time. It makes things even more disappointing if it doesn’t happen,” she said on Sunday.
Her coach reasserts his faith in her talent claiming that with a call up to the National Camp, she would, almost certainly, be another Indian competing in the tracks at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Her immediate target, though, is to qualify with a standard timing of 2:45 for the World Championships later this year. There is still an event in Delhi to set the benchmark. But despite the improved timing, she has made peace with the fact that the 5 lakh cash prize is all she might get. In the buildup to her last chance for a spot at the World Championships, she remains hopeful but realistic at the same time.