Pune: Rural athletes Vaishnavi Sawant and Reshma Kewate from Mhaswad , Satara stood first and second respectively in the 2500 metre race at a Northern Virginia regionals competition conducted at Lake Braddock Secondary School, Washington D.C, USA recently . The three Athletes who had gone to US for a unique two-week athletic immersion programme under the Mann Deshi Champions Programme were felicitated at a special ceremony held in Mumbai at Garware Club House ,Wankhede Stadium today. Honourable Minister Chandrakant Dada Patil spent time speaking with the girls and their families and inaugurated the event.
Vaishanavi Sawant, Reshma Kewate and Poonam Kalel are all young athletes who come from the drought-prone region of Mann taluka in rural Maharashtra and are supported by the Mann Deshi Champions Programme. Vaishanavi is a long jumper, Reshma is a long-distance marathon runner and Poonam is a triple-jumper. They all joined our programme several years ago and since then have gone on to win many local and state-level sporting competitions.
Reshma, Poonam and Vaishanavi have faced enormous financial and economic challenges on their journeys to become recognized athletes. They spoke about their training and travels – a far cry from running behind livestock and cutting sugarcane without even a decent pair of shoes to build their stamina and muscles! Their parents also talked about how proud they were of their daughters achievements and how hard they had struggled to be where they are today.
Prabhat Sinha, the Founder of this Programme, said that there are very limited opportunities in rural areas to shine in athletics because of the lack of facilities, awareness and support. The Mann Deshi Champions programme aims to address this gap and provides sports facilities, equipment, training and nutrition to the rural children in Mhaswad, India. The objective of the programme is to empower young rural girls and boys to develop their potential and seriously consider sports as a career.
Rekha Kulkarni, CEO Mann Deshi Bank talked about how the Champions programme also creates supportive peer groups where girls and boys can share their learnings and experiences. “We have dedicated courses to enhance physical as well as social interactive skills of these youngsters,”she said.
Vandana Bhansali, Programme Director said that all the athletes came from very humble backgrounds. She went on to say that “to fight against so many odds, and to shine in an international competition makes us all very proud. It just goes show how much talent is there in rural India. We are inspired to continue to enhance and nurture these talents.”
Chetna Sinha, Chairperson of the Mann Deshi Foundation, said there is a strong link between sports and youth development. She said, “Ever since we started this programme for the children of Mhaswad and surrounding villages, we have gotten a tremendous response. This programme is now developing into a big movement with regular activities like the Mann Deshi Mini Marathon. We even plan to support an athletes in the upcoming Olympics in Japan.”
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