Ahmedabad, Sep 28 (IANS) She has been a fierce competitor in the National Games for a quarter century now. She has won a whopping 48 medals, including 29 Gold, and claimed the trophy for the Best Female Athlete three times. And now, ace swimmer Richa Mishra is thanking her stars and the Gujarat Government for the chance to try and swell her medal haul beyond 50.
The 39-year-old had all but given up hope of competing in her sixth edition. “The repeated postponement of the National Games in Goa made me wonder if I would get to swim in the competition again. My sixth National Games will be the cherry on the cake, thanks to Prime Minister Modi and Gujarat Government. I am happy I have a chance now,” said Richa Mishra, who first participated in the Games 25 years ago.
“All said and done, it is like our Olympic Games, the biggest sports competition in India. I will enjoy racing and take no added pressure even while I try and complete the half-century of National Games medals,” she added.
Richa Mishra first participated in the Games in Bangalore in 1997. She skipped the 1999 edition in Imphal as the competition was held in the winter months. The 2001 Games in Punjab did not include swimming in the calendar as Patiala did not have an all-weather pool back then. She has ruled the National Games competition since 2002.
“The 1997 Games is very close to my heart as it was my first exposure on such a massive platform. It was my discovery of multi-discipline Games. Thanks to my elder sister, Charu Mishra, stepping down from a relay race, I had the chance to get my first bronze,” she said.
Richa Mishra won trophies for the Best Female Athlete of the National Games in 2002, 2007 and 2011. There was a cloud of doubt over her keeping the 11 medals, including 8 Gold she won in Ranchi in 2011 in the wake of a 2010 doping case that saw her being banned for two years from 2012. However, the National Anti-Doping Appeal Panel ruled that she could keep the medals and the Best Female Athlete trophy.
The 39-year-old, who plans to compete in seven events at the Sardar Patel Swimming Pool in Rajkot, makes light of having to now compete with swimmers who were not born when she was sweeping medals in the 2002 National Games in Hyderabad.
“I am grateful I can still compete with the intensity and passion I had back in 1997. When I compete with the likes of Bhavya Sachdeva, Vritti Aggarwal and Aanya Wala, I feel just as young and am happy,” she said.
Richa Mishra, who recently won the 400m IM gold in the National Championships in Guwahati, said she was overwhelmed by the affection she got there. “I felt something very different this time. The athletes, their parents and coaches, have enormous respect for me. They were all happy with my presence. It did not matter to them if I won medals or not.”
For a girl who would be made fun of because she could not speak English or wore non-branded clothing or had pimples on her face, Richa Mishra has come a long way.
“Circumstances made me strong. And when I wore gold medals around my neck, I felt the most beautiful,” she said, revealing that she drew her mental strength from her parents.
Richa Mishra is quick to point out that she has not done much internationally. “I missed the Olympic Games qualification by a bit.”
She also did not make it to an Asian Games final in 1998 or 2002. “But since I come from a middle-class family, I never imagined I would win so many races over such a long time that swimming now resides in my soul,” she added.