Jaisha Orchatteri Puthiya Veetil, commonly known as O. P. Jaisha, is an Indian track and field athlete from Kerala. She is the current national record holder in the marathon, a distinction she achieved by clocking 2:34:43 at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. In the process she bettered her own mark of 2:37:29, set at the 2015 Mumbai Marathon. She is also a former national record holder in the 3000 metres steeplechase.
An alumnus of Assumption College, Changanassery, Jaisha competes in the middle and the long distance events, including 1500 metres, 3000 metres, 3000 metres steeplechase, and 5000 metres. She won gold over 1500 metres and 3000 metres at the 1st Asian Indoor Games held at Bangkok in 2005. She was, however, unable to repeat her performance at the 2006 Asian Indoor Championships, held at Pattaya, as she won only a silver in the 1500 metres and a bronze in the 3000 metres. She represented India at the 2006 Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne, Australia. Jaisha is also a bronze medalist in 5000 metres at the Doha Asiad. Jaisha took up steeplechase only in 2008 when she clinched the National title at Madurai Inter-State championships. However, she broke the Indian national record in 3000 metres steeplechase with a time of 10:03.05 at the 50th National Inter-State Athletics Championships held in Patiala on 7th August 2010. She erased the previous mark of 10:09.56 set by Sudha Singh on 18th May 2010 in Kochi. At the 2014 Asian Games held in Incheon, South Korea, Jaisha won the 1500 metres bronze with a time of 4:13.46. The following year in 2015, she made her marathon debut at the Mumbai Marathon and clinched first place in the Indian women's category (eighth overall), breaking a 19-year-old record in the process. At the National Games, held early February in the year 2015 in Jaisha's home state of Kerala, the marathon runner easily beat out the rest of her competition and won the gold medal in the 5000 metres event. In August 2015, Jaisha participated in the marathon at the World Championships in Beijing, where she finished 18th, one place ahead of compatriot Sudha Singh, among the 52 athletes who completed the race. Both Jaisha and Singh improved upon the former's national record time set earlier in the year at the Mumbai Marathon, and both also qualified for the 2016 Olympics by virtue of their showing.
Jaisha was born on 23rd May 1983 in Kerela, India. She grew up in the town of Kalapetta in the tribal region in north Kerala’s Wayanad district. Jaisha’s childhood experiences are heart rending. 5 Year old Jaisha saw her father bed-ridden due to an accident, her mother slipped into depression, leaving Jaisha and her three sisters into an emotional turmoil and poverty. Jaisha in her interviews recount how as a teenager she even had to eat mud because she couldn’t starve anymore. But her mother never allowed her and the sisters to do menial work. With no prior coaching, O.P Jaisha completed with a 100 meter lead. The victory at the local race opened her the window to dream of a better life. Despite her difficulties, she was quick to pursue it and with constant practice. Her daily routine of traversing through the high altitude terrain worked to her favour. The only source of income for her family was the two cows they purchased after mortgaging the house. Jaisha would feel luck to find food when she returns from school. Life was becoming harder and harder for the teenager but she never gave up on running which gave her the first victory. The local coach in the town knew Jaisha had the potential. With the certicate and coach’s confidence on Jaisha gave her admission to a college. Jaisha was lucky to find support from Unnikrishnan, the coach in her college. He bought her first pair for running shoes. Then started Jaisha’s formal training and there was no looking back.
Putting her heart and soul into her training, Jaisha hit a hat-trick of gold medals. The scorching sun and tedious workouts didn’t deter the athlete in her. Jaisha’s achievements in a short time brought her under the training of various prominent coaches. 21 year old Jaisha won bronze medal at Doha-Asian games which made her a star in the athletes’ circles. She had various obstacles in the way to victory. Her focus was diverted to her sisters. She took loans and sold her house and used the prize money to get her sisters married. The reality hit her hard. She was a champion, a start even and a pride to the country. But her family still lived in poverty. They didn’t have a house. Suddenly her future looked bleak but she continued to do to what she did best. Jaisha was facing a road block when she suffered respiratory problems and other difficulties. She finished with low scores at the common wealth games and the Asian Athletics Championships didn’t work in her favour. Just when the media and critics predicted this is the end of her career, Jaisha proved all of them wrong and was back on track. It was the support of her husband, Gurmeet Singh that brought her back to race. Gurmeet left his job and devoted his whole time for Jaisha. It didn’t take long for Jaisha to bounce back. She Proved Her Mettle against All Odds. She went on to win several races and breaking her own records. But all these achievements did very little to bring her family out of poverty. She used her prize money to pay back loans and the Government helped her with Rs 5 lakhs. But her loans are much more and she is struggling to pay them back. She is currently being supported by JSW Sport under the Sport Excellence Programme. JSW came forward to sponsor her accommodation and Sports Authority Of India supports her travel and food. Apart from these sponsorships, she has to spent money from her own pockets to purchase shoes, sports clothing and other essentials. She and her family is still dealing with poverty and yet she keeps her hopes of winning an Olympic medal alive. Jaisha is now waiting to train for Olympics and is leaving to US for pre-Olympics competitions.
Source: Wikipedia and Milaap website page to help Jaisha.