Adversity brings the best out of champions. Two girls have shown precisely that, and in the process pushed cricket, Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri to the margins of Indian sport, at least for a week.
The two young ladies excelled in disciplines that need physical as well as mental strength and, of course, skills to go with.
Aruna Budda Reddy and Navjot Kaur do not belong to the elite sport or the social circuit and today they have made India proud.
The two quietly worked their way up to create history. And both have heart-rending stories to their background, noticed only after their fantastic achievements.
Aruna became the first Indian to win a Gymnastics World Cup medal, a bronze, and Navjot the first woman to win an Asian Championship wrestling gold at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Aruna had to cope with the passing away of her father, who defied his family to remove her from karate and introduce to her the world of mats, rings and vaults of gymnastics. Her only regret was that her father was not there in her moment of success and joy. Her sister and brother-in-law helped her to fulfil her father’s dream of making her a top class gymnast.
Navjot knew what all her father had to go through to bring her onto the podium. She was at the critical juncture of battling out the 65 kg final against a tough Japanese girl Imai Miyu and how well she accomplished it, with a comprehensive 9-1 victory.
For Navjot it was her way of thanking her farmer father who had run up loans to the tune of Rs 13 lakhs. There was a period when she was off the wrestling mat for two years with a back injury suffered in 2015.
Luckily, the 27-year-old has a Railway job and need not worry too much about her financial security. For that she had to work so hard, getting up with her sister at 4 a.m. to go from her village Bagrian to border town Tarn Tarn in Punjab to train.
Navjot’s financial rewards from her international achievements have helped the family to move into a bigger house of their own and also fund the education of her brother. That’s what the sport can do and invariably those who rise from humble beginnings know what it is all about.
In a sport where the average age of Olympic squads is 17 or 18, and where the dropout rate among women gymnasts in Western countries is an estimated 80 per cent for high-performance female gymnasts by the time they get to 14, Aruna’s achievement at 22 is nothing less than a wonder. It is her first international medal and a World Cup bronze at that.
In sports like gymnastics and wrestling the coaches have to protect their wards, particularly when they are growing, particularly in gymnastics when the athletes add inches to their height, and also prevent injuries as they go into long hours of training.
Aruna, like a good sport, acknowledges the success story of Dipa Karmakar as a huge inspiration for her. She is not the first to state that an Indian can compete with the best in the world provided he or she is focused and is extended world-class training facilities and the support system.
Unlike Aruna, for Navjot, this is not the first medal at the Asian championships. She won silver in 2013 to improve upon her bronze in 2011. So the gold is a case of third time lucky. She looks forward to the Asian Games and the Tokyo Olympics, though she failed to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.
Like in any field of life, athletes also need mentors and teammates to boost the morale. If the master badminton coach Pullela Gopichand gave Aruna a pep talk to pump her up, Navjot had fellow-wrestler Vinesh Phogat to make her feel that she has it in her to win the gold.
For motivation she also had Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat in her corner. Never mind, Vinesh had to settle for silver and Sakshi bronze.
Vinesh’s encouraging words, “Didi you can do it and it will be a historic win for Indian wrestling,” made Navjot all the more determined to put in that extra bit to pull it off.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])