Life was a big struggle for young Shaili Singh at her home in Jhansi a few years ago. She was raised by her mother, a single parent and a tailor, and every day appeared to arrive with a new set of problems.
But once Anju Bobby George and her husband Robert Bobby George spotted the long jumper and brought her under their wings, there was a wonderful transformation. Shaili is now a confident 17-year-old, an under-20 World championship silver medallist who, Anju believes, could win an Olympic medal in the future.
It is this sort of work, of empowering young girls and guiding them to a bright future, that saw World Athletics reward Anju with its Woman of the Year award at a virtual awards function late on Wednesday night.
“It’s a big surprise. It’s like winning a Grammy Award or a FIFA world award,” Anju, the country’s lone World Championships medallist (long jump bronze, Paris 2003) and the first Indian to receive the World Athletics award, told Sportstar on Thursday.
Anju Bobby George wins World Athletics Woman of the Year Award
“More than all my achievements, what matters more is what we are giving back to society… to keep the cycle going, to produce future champions. I’m really happy that I’m able to do that.
“And this is Bobby’s achievement too, more than half, because he is the backbone, allowing me to do all these things even now. When Bobby made me a World Championship medallist, he was a one-man army. But now, together, we are developing many athletes (at her Anju Bobby Centre of Excellence in Bengaluru). And it’s not just that we are making champions, it’s all-round development and community development also.
“We are also guiding Shaili, teaching her that culture. Once my trainees reach their expected level, they will also give back to society, so it’s a cycle that’s constantly moving. Because they are living with us, learning from us.”
With javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra bringing Indian athletics’ first Olympic medal, a gold in Tokyo, and Shaili’s silver at the Nairobi under-20 Worlds, this year has been a wonderful one for the sport.
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And Anju, the mentor at her academy where Bobby George is the chief coach, is keen to empower more women.
“My work is more about developing women athletes. I want to encourage more women to come forward, take up the sport, give back to society and make it a sort of culture. Sport should not be just about winning, earning and settling down,” said Anju — currently the senior vice president of the Athletics Federation of India — who was fifth in the 2004 Athens Olympics.