A story of a successful personality often will have interesting revelations. Till last October, Priya Mohan didn’t know how to compete wearing sprint spikes. With no specialist trainer, she ran in her self-taught style. Back then, passion for running was Priya’s only driving force every time she stepped on the track.
Today, these anecdotes enrich her inspiring tale. All of 16, Priya is one of the promising athletes of India. The Karnataka sprinter and quarter-miler has been picked for the South Asian Games’ national camp following her staggering performances in the last 12 months.
At the recently concluded Junior National Championships in Guntur, Priya annexed the U-18 200M (24.49), 400M (55.27) and medley relay titles. She earned the distinction of being the only athlete to win three gold medals in the meet.
Drastic changes - on the technical front and in her lifestyle – have shaped Priya’s success. A chance meeting with coach Arjun Ajay at an ICSE School Nationals last year was the start of an eventful journey.
“She had the height for a sprinter. But she had an awkward running action. Her back was stiff. Yoga helped her to be flexible. I then focused on her upper body strength. Thankfully, she didn’t take much time to get the right technique,” explains Arjun.
After her association with Arjun, it wasn’t an ideal beginning for Priya. At the School Games Federation of India Nationals in Delhi, she finished a disappointing fifth in the 400 metres. A 20-day training stint in Coonor toughened her up. “I felt she needed training in high altitude. So we skipped the Khelo India Games to focus on the Youth Nationals in Raipur,” says Arjun.
“I was disappointed that I couldn’t win a medal at the SGFI Nationals. I took it as a challenge to win gold at the Youth Nationals,” recollects Priya. Staying true to her words, Priya clinched the 400 metres gold for the first big title of her career.
Carrying the confidence to the Junior Federation Cup, she bagged a treble, triumphing in U-20 200M, 400M and 4x100 relay. En route her 200 metres and 400 metres gold medals, she clocked her best times of 24.27 and 53.62 respectively.
In the 200M and 400M events, Priya’s Junior Federation Cup efforts turned out to be State records. Among the two disciplines, she picks 400 metres as her favourite. “I love running 400M races. It requires not just speed but also endurance and strength. And it’s a calculative race. You need to apply your mind,” she points out.
It’s her hardcore discipline that’s made her a solid runner, reasons Arjun. “She is extremely dedicated. When we trained in the cold conditions of Coonor, not once did she complain. Even when it comes to her diet, she is very controlled. She loves chocolates and carries one to every big meet to eat after her events. But despite winning so many times, not once has she eaten a bar of chocolate,” says the coach.
Training the youngster, Arjun has had his nervous moments in crunch races. But he describes his ward as fearless. This attitude has made the fancied opponents and mighty teams to sit up and notice Priya in national meets. In the 200M final at the Junior Nationals, the spotlight was on national record-holder Avantika Narale from Pune. But starting from lane number 3, Priya produced a perfect run to emerge the winner from a competitive field.
It was a similar story in the medley relay. Anchoring the Karnataka team, Priya started behind Kerala’s Gowri Nandana, who was tipped to take her team to the title.
However, Priya paced her run brilliantly and overtook Gowri to build a huge lead that left the Kerala runner helpless. In the end, Priya and co had downed mighty Kerala.
It’s not a surprise that Wayde van Niekerk is Priya’s inspiration. “He is the world and Olympic record holder in 400 metres. He ran from lane number eight and fought off an injury to win the Rio Olympics gold,” Priya is quick to answer, even before she is asked about the South African ace’s achievement.
Priya has had her share of international experience. She travelled to Hong Kong for the Youth Asian Meet. While Priya finished fourth in the 400M, she bagged a silver in the medley relay.
“My first trip outside India was a great learning experience. I realised that I was inexperienced compared to many runners there. My last 100 wasn’t up to the mark and I have worked on it,” she offers.
Daughter of HA Mohan, a Lokayukta Judge and Chandrakala, a home-maker, Priya is thankful to all her near and dear ones for their sustained support.
For the first-year science student of Mount Carmel College, winning is everything. For instance, ahead of the Junior Nationals, a severe back sprain had denied her good preparations. She travelled to Guntur following a long rehab period. But when the curtains came down to the event, she had three gold medals under her belt.
“I am not scared of anything. I can’t wait to get on to the track. I just wait for the gunshot and then run to win,” she says.
Karnataka would hope the winning run of the youngster continues, as long as possible.