How Truck Drivers Helped This Girl Achieve Her Olympic Dream

Mirabai Chanu was the first to bring India a medal from Tokyo Olympics 2020. So she decided to celebrate those who helped her get here.
Pallavi Pundir
Delhi, IN
August 6, 2021, 9:47am
olympics, india, mirabai chanu, manipur, south asia
Photo: Vincenzo Pinto / AFP

Mirabai Chanu, the weightlifter who opened India’s medal count on the first day of Tokyo Olympics 2020 with a silver, has had quite the homecoming.

Last week, when she came back to Manipur – the northeastern state that churns out international-calibre athletes – she received a roaring welcome. Since then, she’s been offered INR 1 crore ($134,825) and a government job, free pizza for life, cement to build a house, and even a biopic offer. 

Advertisement

For a week since her arrival, the 26-year-old – India’s second weightlifter to have won an Olympic medal – went looking for the truck drivers who had helped her reach her training centre that was nearly 30 kilometres (18 miles) away from her house. For years, the drivers picked her up everyday while moving river sand from her village, and then dropped her off at the training centre in Manipur’s capital Imphal. 

“I want to see the truckers who provided me regular lifts from home to the training centre and seek their blessing,” the athlete told Hindustan Times last week. “[I want to] extend whatever help they may require now.”

On Thursday, Mirabai’s search came to an end when she not just found them, but organised a ceremony where she gifted them traditional scarves and served them an elaborate traditional lunch.

Mirabai’s parents recently opened up to the media about the financial constraints they raised their daughter in. In one interview, Mirabai’s mother Saikhom Ongbi Tombi Devi said that she ran a tea stall in their village, where trucks usually stopped and the drivers offered to drive Mirabai to the training centre. Their gesture helped the family save on transport costs and invest in the young athlete’s diet instead. 

“Our parents used to give her INR 10 or 20 (13 to 27 cents) for her journey,” Mirabai’s brother Saikhom Sanatomba told Hindustan Times. “Early morning, trucks used to leave from the market square. The village is very small and almost everyone knows everyone else. We would know which truck was going towards [Mirabai’s] training centre, and would send her with them. She never complained about it. She went alone every day.”

On social media, Mirabai’s gesture won many hearts. 

Mirabai comes from a family with no sports background. Her father was a government employee. While celebrating the truck drivers, she told a local TV crew that they played a key role in her becoming a weightlifter. 

Most Indian athletes who perform internationally come from humble backgrounds. Some came from families below the poverty line – those who live on less than $3.10 a day – but have excelled despite their difficult circumstances. 

Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.