Scouted through Insta, quarter-miler Rezoana Mallick Heena breaks jr national record

Teen quarter-miler Rezoana Mallick Heena reluctantly admits that she used to spend way too much time on social media, especially Instagram. The 15-year-old would spend countless hours scrolling on her phone, watching reels and even uploading her training clips when she was in Kolkata. But little did the teenager know that her Instagram training clips would open doors for the youngster to train with the likes of two-time U20 World Championships medallist Priya Mohan and eventually go on to break a national record.

At the 400m Nationals on Tuesday, Rezoana broke the U-16 national record with 53.22s on the clock, rewriting Anjana Thamke’s decade-old record of 54.57s. Rezoana, who comes from Nadia district of Bengal, now trains under Priya’s coach Arjun Ajay in Bengaluru. The Bengaluru-based coach had a memorable outing at the 400m nationals with three of his wards bagging the top spot in their respective age categories – U-16 Rezoana Mallick Heena, U-18 Khushi Umesh and U-20 Priya Mohan.

While coach Ajay scouts most of his trainees in junior meets, Rezoana’s route was much different. “I came across her training videos. She was doing a jumping drill on a river bund. Then there were a few running videos I analysed and felt she had the qualities I could work with. She had good height and her stride lengths were ideal. I knew this girl had potential,” says coach Ajay who has over 46k followers on his Insta. The young coach backed his gut and decided to recruit her to his program even without watching her run in person.

When Ajay reached out to Rezoana it was like a fan-girl moment for the youngster. “I am a big fan of Ajay sir. I have followed sir’s work and I really look up to Priya Mohan. I was stunned when I saw his message,” says Rezoana who joined the coach in November 2021.

Rezoana wanted to break the news immediately to her parents but there was one small hurdle. Her parents weren’t aware that she was on Instagram. “Maine sach bol diya (I told them the truth.) I told them Priya Mohan’s coach has invited me to train in Bengaluru,” she says.

Rezoana’s parents, both former national-level kabaddi players, didn’t think twice before agreeing to send their daughter to a new part of the country. “We knew about coach Ajay and we didn’t even need a second to think,” says uncle Imran who recently moved to Kuwait to work as construction labour.

Rezoana’s record-breaking run has only strengthened the family’s faith in coach Ajay.
“We believe Allah has sent coach Ajay. He hasn’t charged a single rupee and takes care of all her food, lodging and training expenses. We are lucky to have met a person like him,” adds Imran.

Restricted phone access

When Rezoana arrived in Bengaluru, she was clocking 45 seconds for 300m and within a couple of months she reduced her timings to sub-40s. Coach Ajay believes, that more than technique corrections it was some disciplining that brought about a big change in her performance.

“When she arrived she was constantly on her phone. Movies, music and especially Instagram. She initially blocked me on WhatsApp so I couldn’t see if she was online during sleep time. So now the phone has been put away. She wasn’t happy with it at all but it’s an addiction we needed to break,” says Ajay who didn’t take much time to put his foot down.

Ajay also had to convince the once-timid youngster to believe in her abilities. Even though she’s just 15, Ajay feels she’s as good as the prodigious Priya Mohan who has emerged as one of the brightest talents on the circuit in recent times. “When I arrived here, I wasn’t very confident but sir has helped me gain that champion spirit and now I am confident of doing even better. I know my phone was taken away for my own good or else I would watch reels all day,” she says.

The toughest part of training in Bengaluru, for the youngster, is staying away from her parents and the city she adores. “I miss Kolkata so much. I miss the food, especially the Kolkata biryani. I eat Hyderabadi biryani here but it’s nothing like Kolkata biryani,” says the youngster veering into a slightly touchy topic for food lovers.

Key results: Men: 1. Muhammed Ajmal Variyathodi (Kerala) 46.90 seconds; 2. Rahul Ramesh Kadam (Maharashtra) 47.51; 3. T Santhosh Kumar (Tamil Nadu) 47.72.

Women: 1. Dandi Jyothika Sri (Andhra Pradesh) 53.26 seconds; 2. Aishwarya Kailash Mishra (Maharashtra) 53.49; 3. Kiran Pahal (Haryana) 54.29.

Girls U16: 1. Rezoana Mallick Heena (West Bengal) 53.22 seconds (New National Girls U16 Record. Old: 54.57, Anjana Thamke, Lucknow, 2012); 2. Mansi Bharekar (Maharashtra) 56.77; 3. M Nethra (Tamil Nadu) 57.66.

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