To 15-year-old high jumper Pavana Nagaraj, stadiums are second home. Since the time she was four, she has accompanied her parents, both former national-level athletes, to top track-and-field meets around the country, and has seen them break records.
On Saturday, the 5-foot 8-inch teenager continued the family tradition, rewriting the under-16 national high jump record at the junior nationals in Guwahati by clearing the bar at 1.73 metres.
Back in 2012, Pavana’s mother Sahana Kumari had jumped 1.92 m, a record that no Indian woman has broken till date. Her father BG Nagaraj has been an acclaimed sprinter — he was crowned the fastest man in India in 2010, when he won the 100 m sprint at the inter-state meet. His best has been 10.50 seconds, recorded at the Asian Games trials.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Pavana says she loved going to the track with her parents. “I would feel really upset on the days that my mother left me at home. So, on most days she took me along. It is due to my parents’ hard work that I have reached this far,” she says – only to break into a laugh and add, “Not that I don’t work hard… Sports is my interest and passion and I have huge dreams.”
Her father, Nagaraj, says the joy of seeing his daughter set the record is an emotion that overshadows anything he or his wife have ever felt at a sporting arena.
“Athletics was in her blood. I am so elated that we have two current national record holders in our house. This is just the beginning, we have very big plans for her,” says Nagaraj, who works with the Indian Railways as a sports coach.
They didn’t have to nudge their daughter towards athletics, say Sahana and Nagaraj, who are based in Bengaluru. A high-jump medal at the school level, and the recognition that followed was the spark that she needed, believes Sahana.
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“At the school meet she wanted to take part in the 100 m event like her father, but did not do well,” Sahana says. Pavana’s school coach asked her to give high jump a shot, and she turned out to be a natural. Awards at various age-group meets became a habit for her thereafter.
To Sahana, her daughter appears as her own mirror image, and watching Pavana bounce towards the bar reminds her of her own junior days. “If you see her from behind, she almost looks like me. She has a lot of flaws that need to be ironed out. She has to work on improving her run-up. The strides need to be longer. She has a tendency to go too close to the bar; that has to be worked out as well,” says Sahana, who competed at the 2012 London Olympics.
After retiring in 2017, Sahana and Nagaraj started training budding athletes at Bengaluru’s SAI centre. With Sahana taking a break from coaching after the birth of the couple’s second child last year, it’s the father who has been Pavana’s shadow.
“I couldn’t work much with her, as my younger one kept me busy. Her father used to help her train. Without any competitions, and with the lockdown protocols, training was really difficult. We didn’t have access to a jumping pit for a long time,” Sahana says.
The mother recalls that while growing up, Pavana took part in most running and jumping disciplines, which helped her a lot. “At the under-14 competitions, she would take part in combined events, and that meant she wasn’t just confined to high jump. This is how we were trained. I used to do a lot of events as a kid, and later stuck to high jump,” says Sahana.
Pavana says she has exceeded her expectations by creating a national record. “Due to the Covid restrictions, I was not able to train well. I wasn’t expecting this.”
The proud parents say that had it not been for the pandemic, Pavana would have broken the national record last year itself. But that’s a minor blip for this family of national record holders.