Pulling Weight At The Forest Games
At the All India Forest Service Games held in December 2015, Uttarakhand was the runner up with a final tally of 81 medals. The state’s women forest officers put up a stellar performance with 20 of the 21 participating women winning medals, including five in a newly introduced category – weightlifting. Cara Tejpal learns more.
On the train back to Uttarakhand from Bengaluru, where the state’s Forest Department placed second at the All India Forest Service Games, the team’s Chief Mentor Param Jit Singh asked each of his players to air their views on the experience. From the men in his team, came one surprising complaint. They felt their coaches focused too much attention on training the women. Unfazed, Pammi, as his friends know him, pointed to the heap of medals the female members of the Uttarakhand Sports Forest Team had earned. Twenty of the 21 participating women had won at least one medal at the games, with star player and flag bearer Gangotri Tolia alone contributing three golds, four silvers and a bronze to the count.
Four times in the past five years, the Uttarakhand Forest Department’s Sports Team has placed amongst the top three winning teams at the games – doing justice to the weeks of preparation that they undertake for the event. In 2015, the team came together under the guidance of APCCF Param Jit Singh, himself a Table Tennis and Carrom player, at the Forest Training Institute at Haldwani for three months of disciplined coaching before the games.
While the chess players practiced various strategies for up to ten hours a day, and the athletes ran innumerable miles, the coaches were left to puzzle over a new challenge. Each state has the right to add one new event to the games, and in this year Karnataka had introduced women’s weightlifting, a sport that the women of Uttarakhand’s Forest Department, most from small towns and villages around the state, didn’t even know existed. In the end, the coaches took a calculated gamble, selecting two of the carrom players, two shortput throwers and an athlete to try their hand at this new event.
For the selected forest guards, Sunita Bisht, Deepa Pandey, Sukhveer Kaur, Geeta Goswami and Sarla Rana, the idea of weightlifting itself was fine, but with it came two daunting pre-conditions – the need to increase their weight and wear spandex suits. As they began the intensive training required to lift weights, their coaches added six eggs, an extra glass of milk, ginseng, salmon oil capsules, protein and vitamin supplements to their daily diet, and sure enough, the women began to bulk up. Convincing the women to wear spandex though, required more initiative. In a stroke of genius, Pammi arranged a special field trip for the newbie weightlifters to attend a state level women’s weightlifting championship being held in Kashipur. Seeing the scores of professional women weightlifters confidently wearing their spandex successfully served to assuage the ladies’ discomfort about the costume required of the sport. Ultimately at the games in Bengaluru, between them the five women won one gold, one silver, and two bronze medals, as well as one fourth place ranking, in the various women’s weightlifting categories.
Overall, without a doubt, the sports team from the Karnataka Forest Department, comprising almost entirely of regularised forest staff recruited under a sports quota, swept the games, winning a total of 115 medals and scoring 403 points. Uttarakhand’s second place tally of 81 medals though, deserves a round of applause too. Not only were several of the women new to their sport of choice, there were others who attended the games with their toddlers, aged between 18 months and 2.5 years, in tow. The men of the team put on an impressive performance in their own right, with 41 out of 58 of them winning at least one medal. The team’s achievement didn’t go unnoticed by the State either, and every medalist will be awarded a cash prize ranging from 30,000 rupees per gold medal to 5,000 rupees for each fourth place ranking at an event attended by the state’s Forest Minister in February.
Do sports achievements have any implications on wildlife protection? I don’t have the studies to prove it, but I’d wager that a physically fit, disciplined, empowered forest force that trains together as a team is a force to reckon with in the field. “Beware poachers, encroachers and illicit fellers,” says Pammi, “ We are there, fully fit, ready to compete and at number one.”
Author: Cara Tejpal.