Negotiating a track that was akin to a runner’s version of solving a jigsaw puzzle, braving humidity, Maharashtra’s Sanjeevani Jadhav added yet another feather to her cap by winning the 21-kilometre Mumbai half marathon on Sunday.

The event was the Nasik-based youngster’s first in the half-marathon format. Momentum, Sanjeevani says, played a big part heading into the race, “I have participated in many marathons before although this was my first half marathon. I also ran the Vasai-Virat marathon [last month in Mumbai], where I finished first,” Sanjeevani told The Field.

En route to her win in the Mumbai Marathon, the 20-year-old got the better of Monika Athare – last year’s winner – by 45 seconds.

But for all her lofty achievements in the recent past, Jadhav may have been sweeping the medals in a different sport. “I was pursuing wrestling and running side by side. My grandfather [a wrestler] taught me the basics [of wrestling] while my father accompanied me to the Dangal. Running, meanwhile, came naturally to me.”

A natural, Jadhav certainly was, and her coach Vijender Singh, who has trained many an established athletes in Nasik, vouches for that when asked how his ward entered his camp. “Sanjeevani had a heart beat rate of 45 [beats per minute] and has lean muscle mass. She has all the makings of a top-class athlete,” Vijender said.

Vijender, in Indian athletics circles, has earned praise for his knack of talent-spotting. Sanjeevani and family were convinced that it was worth moving base to Nasik, which is an hour’s drive away from Vadalibhoi. “My father used to read in the papers that the training facilities are good in Nasik. I got a lot of encouragement from my family, and it certainly changed my life,” she said.

About never losing hope

The conversation once again shifts to Jadhav’s father, Baburao, who is a Geography teacher. While there was little doubt that young Sanjeevani possessed talent, she, in her own words was a late bloomer.

She said: “In the district level competitions – between class five and eight – I don’t recall a race where I finished first or even second.”

In an age where people seek instant gratification, failing to top the podium might have driven aspirants away from the sport, especially for a teenager hailing from a modest middle-class Indian family. “Here again, I’d have to thank my father for constantly encouraging me to try better after every race. He insisted I never give up,” she added.

“There was a desire in me to improve and I gradually went on to win races, but it was only after my 10th grade. By the time I finished 12th, I was competing in international events.”

Accolades galore

After consistent success over the last two years, Sanjeevani has been hailed as one of the brightest prospects in Indian athletics. The floodgates opened during the World School Games at Brazil in 2013, where she won silver.

Last year, she won bronze in 5000-metres at the Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneshwar.

What propelled her to the limelight was a silver in the World University Games in Taipei. Redemption played a part in the win, “I was in the 2015 tournament and finished seventh. I was determined that I’d come back with a medal if I get a chance run in the event again. Before the event, though, I was scared whether I’ll end up with a medal as there was tough competition there.”

The new year has started with a bang for Sanjeevani. She comfortably beat Olympian Lalita Babar to earn gold at the National Cross Country Championship in Goa.

Fresh from another triumph, Sanjeevani insists that she has her sights set on bigger things during the course of the year with Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, not surprisingly, ranking high on the list, “I have to the break the qualifying time [for Commonwealth]. I am also going for Asian Indoors in Iran where I am competing in 3000-metres. I’m confident that I will do well there.”