If I had to pick one athlete who really impressed me last year it has to be Swapna Barman with her performance at the Asian Games. To be in so much pain and yet show such terrific levels of resilience was admirable. I happened to meet her after the Games and just listening to her talk about the experience -- the infected tooth and the bolts of pain that she could feel shooting right up to her head with every step she took and yet weather all that over a gruelling two-day, seven-event discipline like heptathlon is unbelievable. I'd have to throw in all the adjectives I possibly can here and say it's gritty, brave and inspirational.
Among the sporting moments that really smacked me with pride and emotion, the one that stood out for me has to be the journey of Real Kashmir FC. I'm not sure if I can call it 'fairy tale' but the way the team conducted themselves and fought like they had nothing to lose was everything one watches sport for. So far, I've made over 20 trips to Kashmir in my life and one has got a sense of the kind of lack of opportunity there is for youngsters to pursue a sport. Then, to read, hear, see and follow this incredible story of Real Kashmir and watch the home crowds turn up in such large, overwhelming numbers to offer support, clearly for me was the sport story in the year gone by.
In their unforgettable sojourn I think coach David Robertson's effort deserves a special mention. Here's this Scottish guy who has formerly turned out for Rangers and Aberdeen, was a find of Sir Alex Ferguson and had never been to India before, who turns down offers of working with a bunch of international teams and picks the Kashmir job instead. To work with all sorts of bottlenecks, drawbacks and the infrastructural weaknesses that come with coaching a team like Real Kashmir cannot be easy and, what's more, his son [Mason] also plays for the team. Robertson's willingness to scale cultural, linguistic and work-ethic differences in his short stint so far [he joined last year] and make such an impact should, I feel, have fetched him a mention in your awards shortlist.
(As told to Susan Ninan)