Shaili Singh’s progress as an athlete has a lot to do with her coach Robert Bobby George but it was her “strong and determined” mother who helped her daughter take the first big leap when she sent her to Bengaluru for training, much against the advise of well-wishers.
The 17-year-old Shaili was raised by her mother with great difficulty at a village near Parichha Thermal Power Station in Jhansi district in Uttar Pradesh.
Her mother Vinitha works as a tailor to feed her three children and pays around Rs 3000 per month as rent for the two-room accommodation.
“I faced a lot of problems when I started (athletics), regarding diet and many other things,” Shaili said at a felicitation function for the Indian athletes who won medals at the World U-20 Championships in Nairobi.
“When Anju ma’am called me to train to Bengaluru, many people in our place told my mother why are you sending your daughter alone to a city. But she told them ‘she is my daughter, I know her and I am sending her’.
“My mother is very strong and determined. As I grew up under her care, I got a lot of confidence and things became easier for me,” said Shaili .
Shaili, who jumped 6.59m to win silver, was spotted by legendary long jumper Anju Bobby George, India’s only medallist in World Championships, at the age of 13.
On the advice of her husband Robert, Anju personally went to see Shaili during the National Inter-State District Junior Athletics Meet at Visakhapatnam in November 2017 and took the youngster under her wings in April 2018.
Shaili, who used to run barefoot and had blisters on her feet as her mother could not afford shoes for her, has been coached by Robert since then at the Sports Authority of India Center in Bengaluru.
Asked what did she feel when Anju called her to train in Bengaluru, Shali said, “I was very excited, and how can I say no to ma’am. It was something which I knew is for my good and I have been waiting for that, I got ready and my mother was very happy.
“I was struggling (to continue the sport) but things completely changed after coming to Bangalore. It became a new life for me.”
A class X student student at St Patrick’s School in Bengaluru, Shaili said she missed her examination while taking part in competitions.
“I was to appear for class X examination but I missed it as I had to go for competition,” she said.
Shaili’s elder sister is pursuing B.Com third year and her younger brother studies in class 6.
Asked what was her feeling during the victory ceremony in Nairobi she said, “Her (gold medal winner’s) flag was going up but I was looking at only our national flag and it was going up. Even if it was second position, for me it is first position.”
Her coach Robert said he told Shaili before the World U-20 Championships that if she wins a gold, her mother will get a new home.
“She is from a very humble family. They have a two-room accommodation and pays something like Rs 3000 (per month) as rent. I don’t know details and I have never been there. May be I need to go down to her place some day.
“But she is a fast learner, very dedicated with a steely resolve. She will rule national circuit for many years and will be a top long jumper at world stage for at least three Olympics,” said Robert who coached wife Anju to 2003 World Championships bronze medal.
Asked what difference he found in Shaili as compared to Anju, Robert said, “Anju began (her career) late and there are many things like tissue memory which you can’t change. In that Shaili is in an advantageous position as she started at 13.”
Anju, on her part, said Shaili will be in contention for a medal in next year’s Asian Games.
“She is there, her 6.59m is already in that range. But anything can happen in a competition, that is the beauty of sports. But definitely, she will be medal contender.”
The gold winner at the 2018 Asian Games had jumped 6.55m and the bronze medallist managed an effort of 6.50m.
Silver winner in men’s 10,000m race walk, Amit Khatri, the bronze winning mixed 4x400m team of Priya Mohan, Bharath Sridhar, Summy, Abdul Razak and Kapil were also felicitated by the Athletics Federation of India.