Annu Rani’s bid to secure a berth at the Tokyo Olympics has been anything but easy. A heartening milestone in that pursuit was a stellar national record-setting performance the Indian javelin thrower managed at the IAAF World Athletics Championships last year. As it turns out, along with the expectations of a nation and her own ambitions, she had to deal with menstrual cramps on the day of the competition.
Speaking to Sportstar on World Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28) Annu said, “I was in a lot of pain that day, but it was an Olympic qualifying event and I knew I had to give it my best. At one point of the day, I was crying in pain and couldn’t pull myself out of bed. During competitions, we are not even allowed to take medication to deal with the pain. I just had to pull it together and give it my all.”
Annu did her giver best that day, bettering her national record of 62.34m with a 62.43m throw.
Originally from Bahadurpur in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Annu got her first period when she was in class eight. With no knowledge about menstruation, she was confused. She didn’t get much assistance at home due to the stigma surrounding it; her mother was too embarrassed to discuss it with her.
Annu’s elder sister then sat her down and explained it all. “We didn’t know what sanitary pads were. We used cloth, and it was so difficult. I was constantly scared of stains. Back then, we had to walk 2-3 km to get to school. Doing that on our period was hard. We struggled to walk and the cloth would cause inner thigh chafing,” the 27-year-old explained.
It was then that an NGO got in touch with Annu’s school and gave the children a briefing on menstrual products and how to use them. Incidentally, as the National Family Health Survey (2015-16) suggests, only 36 percent of women in India use sanitary napkins. Others use cloth and even leaves that lead to vaginitis and urinary tract infections.
Once inducted into the nation’s sporting system, the basics were available to her – in terms of products and awareness. The only concern now was to unlearn period myths internalised when she was younger – especially about training.
“Earlier, I did not have the confidence to train during my period because I thought my body felt loose and I wouldn’t be able to generate the strength needed to throw the javelin far. Speaking to senior athletes and their experiences helped answer a lot of my doubts,” Annu explained.
“We have foreign coaches. So its always good to be direct about our bodily indicators. Our staff let us rest if we’re not feeling up to it or tone down the intensity to our comfort. I’ve come a long way from there to registering my personal best while menstruating,” she added.
Having spent the lockdown at the National Institute of Sport, Patiala on a watered down workout schedule, Annu says it has had an impact on her cycle.
“I had a little more pain than usual this time because of this pause in my rigorous training schedule. We’re now allowed to train outdoors here in NIS, so I am really happy. Feels like breaking out of being shut in a room,” she added with an evident sigh of relief.
Her own experiences coupled with movies, higher media penetration and social campaigns by government and private entities have helped spread awareness even in Annu’s hometown to the point that she is now able to openly discuss the process with her mother.
“Many people call menstruation dirty. I don’t understand what’s so dirty about it when the process helps us in giving birth. I urge people to understand the science behind it, ditch the myths and listen to their bodies,” she added.
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