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Dhaka Tribune

Interview of Shirin Akhter, 15-time fastest woman of Bangladesh

‘I want to set an example for female athletes’

Shirin clinched the top podium of the 100m sprint event in the national and summer athletics for 15 times which she claimed as a national record

Update : 08 Mar 2024, 12:17 AM

Sprinter Shirin Akhter has been the undisputed queen of the country’s track for almost one decade. Hailing from a farmer’s family of a village in Satkhira, Shirin raced past every obstacle and never stopped dreaming of writing a life script of her own which is unparalleled to any woman on the athletics track from the past. She clinched the top podium of the 100m sprint event in the national and summer athletics 15 times which she claimed as “a national record”. The 29-year old sprinter gave an exclusive interview to Dhaka Tribune after winning four gold medals, including a new record during the 47th National Athletics Championship held last month.

How was the start of your journey?

It was never smooth, especially for girls. It was same for me in 2005-06. I was in my village in Satkhira. So there was struggle. From there I got admitted to Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishthan and gradually became free of those obstacles.

What kind of hurdles?

It was a norm in the village that the girl would study until class nine or 10 and then get married. My elder sister also faced the similar destiny. I was also perhaps on the same route but I was interested to become an athlete. I didn’t want to get married. I wanted a different life. I wanted to live a life of my own. My father didn’t agree. But my elder sister supported me. Those stories were almost same for all girls of the village. It was unbelievable in our village that a girl would run in a half pant.

Do you recall the first run?

Like a kid of six/seven years old running for 20-30 meters. We didn’t have enough space in the school to run 50-60m. I started with annual school sports competition. I became interested and used to run to our kitchen inside the house. I walked less and ran more. I enjoyed it. But it also happened that I slipped on wet ground while running in rainy season and got injured. I don’t know why I did this. Maybe I did it out of my fondness.

Were you aware of athletics as an international sport back then?

No. I didn’t even know what BKSP was until I got admitted to class six in a new school in Satkhira city. I started beating the senior students during annual sports event and caught attention. I continued practice but hid it from the parents. Slowly I learned more about the sport and studied on it at BKSP. It became a passion.

How were your early BKSP days…

It is always tough at the beginning for a village girl. It cannot be expected that a village girl will come to the city and find things easy. I was no exception. I was apprehensive over how I would talk with different people, in which manner, and what exactly to say to them. This was all new to me. Gradually we followed what our seniors used to say, I kept evolving. My father initially paid the BKSP fees for a year, then I started thinking how to get a scholarship. I found out looking at my seniors that it was possible through good results in studies or if I play well. If I did that, one year’s fees would be waived. I knew I was not an A+ student so I had to play well in sports. But I started getting A+ in the evaluation tests, and also fared well in the games. Year by year, I got scholarships to the point where I did not have to pay any more fees. It was my passion to be fully free from paying fees, and I was able to do it with the grace of Allah.

Your coach Akbar Ali was also the mentor of footballer Sabina Khatun. Are you friends with her?

Akbar Ali sir showed me the way. He lived near my school in Satkhira. Sabina was my classmate. Both of us had our first training lesson from Akbar sir. We are like friends. We talk to each other sometimes.

Did you ever think of becoming the fastest woman?

My only target in BKSP was to obtain the full free scholarship. I used to see star athletes on newspaper. It moved my mind. I already became the fastest girl from 2007 to 2012 in youth athletics. I got admitted to Rajshahi University in 2014 before joining Navy. I continued both study and training. I couldn’t give full concentration on athletics due to study. But I’m happy with what Allah gave me.

How was the start of your senior career?

My senior career started during the Bangladesh Games in 2013. I was carrying an injury. I just participated. I won silver in 200m. Following that edition until now, I finished first in 100m sprint at every national and summer athletics except one.

How much do you usually get for winning medals?

We get prize money of Tk1,000 to Tk3,000 for winning medals at national championship. It was like token money.

Is the earning from athletics enough?

We all want more than what we get. In that sense, no matter how much we earn, we think it would be better if we get more. It’s everywhere that we want more. In my case, I’m very happy with my condition.

Do you have anything to say for women in athletics?

More than 100,000 follow me on social media, especially young girls. I also have some responsibilities toward them. I came from a village, from a farmer’s family and got involved in both sports and education almost alone. My fans are observing me to see where I can go. I don’t want to frustrate them. That is why I’m also continuing my studies alongside practice to create a good place for me. It’s very difficult but I’m doing this to motivate my followers. I want to set an example for women athletes.

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