Inspiring Stories


HCL Cyclothon - Noida 2024

20 Oct, 2023

History Calling

Bikaner rider Monika Jat wants to pedal to the podium-top at the Asian Games.

When her father Dharmaram Jat offered Monika an ultimatum between wrestling and cycling, Monika knew she couldn’t sit on the fence any more. The hour had come to pick a side. Her decision – “I didn’t have the physical gifts for wrestling and thought cycling seems pretty easy : I’ll only need to pedal!”– would change the course of history.

For one thing, it would give India a more-than-fair shot at finally breaking into the global elite. For another, it would ensure a proud family legacy would shine on. Monika’s grandfather and father were national level wrestlers after all. And two of her uncles have been cyclists. Aunt Pana Choudhary was the star in the picture, of course – a part of the Indian team at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Whoever said it’s all written in the stars was probably right. For, left to her own devices, cycling was not something Monika would havefancied falling for. Sports in general wasn’t quite her calling, really. A studious, skinny kid, she had always been happier with her books than on the playing field. On one summer vacation her father took her out running, just to help her get fit. “I was really skinny, and weighed around 45 kgs,” she says. “And I ran well, seemed to have the endurance, so everyone said I should be put into some sport.”

When she went to train, there were no girl cyclists in Bikaner. The coach refused to take her in, saying she wouldn’t be able to cope as the only girl on the team. Her father refused to relent and insisted on coaching her herself. He would wake up earlier than her every day, and inspire Monika to go on rides no matter what the distance. In time it evolved into a sacred ritual – a template of the grit and sweat greatness demands – that she would follow without fail.

The young biking talent distinctly remembers the first time she took part in a continental level event. It was during the 2022 Asian Championships in Delhi, and the nerves she felt were for real. “I’d only won at the Khelo India Youth Games and I was surrounded by elite cyclists with much more,” she says. “I didn’t even want to go up and talk to others, or even look them in the eye.”

Success changed that. Monika was part of the women’s 4km Team Pursuit squad – along with Rejiye Devi, Chayanika Gogoi and Meenakshi – which won bronze. “That changed my outlook a lot. I realised I was good enough, and slowly started talking more, interacting with others more.”

Looking back at the fateful decision she made that day, opting for cycling instead of wrestling, Monika laughs. “Little did I know how tough and demanding this sport would turn out to be. But it has been worth the while.”

It certainly has.

She caught everyone’s eye right from the word Go. Monika finishing seventh on debut – in the 30km Individual Time Trial and in the 80km Mass Start – at the National Road Cycling Championships at home in Bikaner in November 2019.

In 2020, Monika won Individual Pursuit silver in the Khelo India Youth Games in Guwahati and was called to the national camp.

The early success, the accolades that followed, and the call up to the National camp all convinced Monika that cycling was where she belonged.

A 32km Criterium silver medal and a fifth place in the 20km Individual Time Trial in the National Road Cycling Championships in Navi Mumbai in March 2021 followed. A gentle warning had been sounded to rivals : Monika Jat has tasted blood, and was in no mood to backpedal.

Milestones and medals were snapped up quickly thereafter. Monika added a 30km Individual Time Trial bronze in the National Road Cycling Championships in Kurukshetra in November 2021. This time, however, the path to the podium featured a new enemy : Dengue.

She contacted the illness a mere fortnight before the race, losing both weight and motivation rapidly in its wake. The fact that she was going through a superb preparation patch made the turn of events even harder to swallow. “I’d been training really well and in fact just a few days before Dengue, I’d posted speeds that no one in India had.” Dad – the faithful custodian of the family legacy – was the saviour once again. “It took a lot for my father to get me back up and motivate me”, recollects the champ. The duo made short work of the adversary, adding an important lesson – and oodles of confidence – to the template.

2023 has seen Monika Jat as sprightly as she ever has been. Big things simmer over the horizon. At the National Road Cycling Championships in Nashik in January, she finished second in the 30km Individual Time Trial and missed a podium finish in the 90k Mass Start.

The gold may have remained elusive thus far, but one gets the feeling it’s just a matter of time. The lacuna on her medal mantlepiece is certainly pushing her totrain harder and smarter. A place in the national Hall of Fame someday as one of India’s finest? Why not?

Monika doesn’t want to be celebrating alone at the top, though. And if one were to go by the strong winds of change, she may not need to either. A new crop ofyoung talent is ready and waiting in the wings for its own brush with fame. It would have been far easier for Dharmaram Jat to get his daughter into the Bikaner team today. “Now there are many girls training to become cyclists in Bikaner. I don’t believe it’s tougher for girls to play sport in India. All they need is family support to play a sport of their choice”, shares the young lady.

India’s relative lack of success in the sport at the Asian Games is motivation enough for the rising star. It’s a statistic the 23 year old wants to reset, and soon. “I think it’s a golden chance for us. If someone else does it, we’ll always feel like we missed out on being the first. I want to be the one who brings the first medal and change the course”, she says with steely determination.