“No pain, no gain” may be a phrase closer to Indian heptathlete Swapna Barman than any one else in the world.
The 21-year-old was born uniquely with 12 toes, six per foot, which has caused severe pain throughout her running career (and life in general), as she’s always relied on ill-fitting racing shoes — up until now. Adidas is stepping in to create custom kicks for Barman and will make four pairs to help the athlete finally compete on equal footing.
After taking part in last month’s 2018 Asian Games, Barman became the first Indian athlete to win gold in the heptathlon — a strenuous endurance event that includes the 100-meter hurdles, 200 meters, 800 meters, shot put, high jump, long jump and javelin — allowing her to shed light on her condition on an international scale. When she accepted her award, she made an appeal for customized footwear, prompting Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore of the government-backed Sports Authority of India, to swiftly address the matter.
“After coming to know about Swapna’s case, the sports minister immediately directed us from Jakarta to get customized shoes made for her. We have taken up the matter with Adidas, and they have agreed to provide the footwear,” said general Neelam Kapur, director of the SAI, according to an article published by the Times of India last week.
Barman’s coach, Subash Sarkar, also confirmed details in the same report, where he notes that the SAI has contacted him regarding her size specifications, specialized spikes and pressure points. Sarkar also pointed out that he has previously requested custom shoes for the athlete, but her recent win brought more attention.
“Once, I informally told a SAI official about the shoe issue, but I never took up the matter seriously. Actually, I didn’t want her to alter things just before the Asian Games, as she got adjusted to the regular shoes and was doing fine. Trying a new shoe just before the games could have been adverse. And she hadn’t gained fame at that time. Now after winning the gold, she has become a celebrity, and every company is trying to get mileage out of her,” he said.
Barman, who has been training since she was 11, is also grappling with other health issues including a disc bulge in her back, ankle, knee and hamstring injuries, and most recently a toothache requiring her jaw get taped up.
In a recent interview with ESPN, she is quoted as saying to the physical therapist, “It’s nothing. I will go ahead and compete.”
And so she did, sweeping the competition at the Asian games with a 72-point lead and even setting new personal bests in both the shot put and long jump.
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