Winning medals with one kidney: Anju Bobby George opens up about her personal battles

Speaking to TNM, the long jump pioneer said that she had to battle her congenital condition throughout her sporting career.
Anju Bobby George
Anju Bobby George

Anju Bobby George created history at the 2003 World Championships in Paris when she became the first Indian woman to win a medal in athletics. Seventeen years after her momentous achievement, the 43-year-old, who remains the only Indian female to have won a bronze medal at the prestigious competition, has revealed that she battled a congenital condition, among other struggles on her way to glory.

Taking to Twitter, Anju said that she made it to the top with a single functioning kidney, a dead take-off leg and was allergic to almost all painkillers. 

“This is the first time I am speaking about this. I was born with only one kidney. Living with a single functioning kidney is not a problem if you are leading a regular life. But if you are leading an insane life where you are overusing your body and taking heavy loads, you will see the impact of it,” she tells TNM. The former athlete revealed that she used to have high levels of blood urea in her body which often led to joint pains, fatigue and slower recovery. “With all of these, I competed to reach the top, and it is because of the magic of my coach/mentor.”

The 43-year-old decided to reveal what she went through now, as a motivational message to India’s youth and Olympic athletes during these bleak times. “Today’s world is going through uncertainty. But things are picking up. In the world of sports, the Olympics is nearing (July - August 2021), and I thought it would be great if I could motivate the youth and those athletes who are participating next year,” Anju says. 

The message,  Anju says, is intended to tell people that thinking positively is key, and that all hurdles, no matter how big or small, can be overcome. The former athlete recounted several instances when she felt that she was physically incapable of participating, but ended up doing so due to the motivation and positive reinforcement from her husband and mentor Robert Bobby George. 

“Just 20 days before the 2003 Paris Championships, I was bloating because of slower body recovery and extreme fatigue. The doctors told me that I will not be able to compete. In fact, they said that I should rest for six months in order to recover fully. However, it was Bobby’s mentoring that helped me recover in 20 days, compete and even win a bronze medal,” she says. 

Speaking to TNM, Robert Bobby George says that he had prodded Anju on and asked her to stop thinking about sports for a few days. “I told her, let's visit Paris as a tourist and set aside sports. That worked. Her mental stress reduced and she began to recover fast,” he says. It was Bobby who studied Anju’s recovery patterns and body indications and designed diets and workout routines that would aid her. 

“The important thing is that you always need to look at the positive side. Psychology of the person is so important and that is what helps convert hours and hours of training and hard work into success on the track and field. As coach, I always keep in mind that I am training a human with limitations and emotions. They are not machines. And staying positive is key, especially so with this batch of athletes who are going to compete in the bleakest of times,” he says. 

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