Culture

Four Indian athletes talk about the significance of sports in their life

And why you should be playing too

Nike’s latest campaign has a singular mission—to unlock the power of sport for women in India. ‘Make The World Listen’ encourages women to express themselves with confidence, through movement and sport, without fear of judgment.

One big way to make this happen is by celebrating how far we’ve come. In the past, a woman participating in any form of sport was looked down upon, made fun of, and laughed at for wanting to pursue sports professionally. In the 21st century, however, women across continents are reclaiming stadiums, pitches and arenas in a big way. And every single one of them will attribute a life-changing impact to the sport that they play.

You see, sport has always had the power to transform lives—whether as a profession or simply a passion, its positive impact is undeniable. So, we asked four internationally renowned Indian athletes about their journey and how taking up sport was the best thing that ever happened to them. The goal? To inspire you to get out there and play.

JOSHNA CHINAPPA, SQUASH

Professional squash player Joshna Chinappa’s career started at a very young age. She was the first Indian to win the British Squash Championship title in 2003 in the under-19 category and she ranked world number 10 in 2016. Winning a gold medal at the squash women’s doubles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Chinappa was introduced to the game at the age of eight by her squash player father, who was also her coach for a long time.

Since she was 11, Chinappa has been travelling across the globe for tournaments, which resulted in the exposure to an array of experiences and cultures that varied. “There has been pressure from time to time of how women should dress or how to behave. But it has always been important to me to be the same person when I am in India and when am abroad.” Her solution to negativity is to focus on her goal and train as hard as she can, ensuring that she surrounds herself with people who are good for her mental health.

Sport gave Chinappa a direction and purpose in life when she was very young. It taught her how to accept failure and how to pick herself up and get back at it. “There is always a way to get back on track even if you lose your way—this made me never give up no matter how hard my situations have been,” she says.

Chinappa’s solution to a bad day is something we can all relate to—have a good cry, eat some pizza and then snap out of it.

Joshna Chinappa

DEEPIKA KUMARI, ARCHERY

24-year-old Archer Deepika Kumari moved from her home Ranchi to Jamshedpur to train in archery, not because she liked the sport, but because she thought that it would reduce the burden on her family. “Maine socha ki agar wahan pe sab kuch free hai toh family ka burden kam ho jayega. Toh bahana mil gaya,” she said.

After insisting incessantly about the training program, her parents finally allowed her to go for a trial period. Never did she dream that what was supposed to be an escape would actually change her life forever. Currently ranked world number five in archery, Kumari won the gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and has even won an Arjuna Award in 2012. The athlete who was honoured with a Padma Shri in 2016 says, “World Championship jeetne kiebaad jab mujhe medal mil raha tha aur India ka national anthem piche baj raha tha,woh feeling ekdum naya tha.”  Hearing the Indian national anthem on American soil while receiving her medal made her cry with joy.

Her biggest hurdle was overcoming the taunts her family had to face due to her career choice. “Jab mein archery karne ja rahi thi, toh log bolte the, ladki ko mat bhejo, badi ladki hai aur woh ghar se bhaag jayegi wahan ke ladke ke saath.” People event started making up rumours about her work, even after she won the prestigious Arjuna Award.

The great thing about sports, according to her, is that it teaches you to face challenges head on. It gives you the confidence to push negativity away and focus on what is necessary.

Her advice to women out there is to be their own support system and to push themselves to being better. “Agar aap khud se apne aap ko push nahi karoge, tab tak aap ki help koi nahin kar sakta hai.

Deepika Kumari

MR POOVAMMA, SPRINTER

The 28-year-old sprinter MR Poovamma isn’t a new name or face in the sporting scene. Specialising in 400 metres, she has won gold medals at both the 2014 and 2018 Asian Games and 2013 and 2017 Asian Championships in relay and has individually won a silver in 2013 and a bronze in 2014 at those competitions. Her greatest sporting moment, as she recalls, was when she represented India at the Olympics.

Poovamma’s love for sports began in school when she used to participate in games like kabaddi and football. She then started competing in races, starting off with 100 metres, eventually moving on to 200 metres and 400 metres.

With a long, yet fruitful journey ahead of her, she faced many challenges along the way, including her multiple injuries. A toe injury before the 2010 Asian and Commonwealth Games loomed over her like a dark cloud. However, she turned that around and once she recovered, she pushed herself to clocking her personal best in 2012. But, that wasn’t the only physical hardship she had to face. “During the Olympic qualifications in 2012, I got a disk bulge on my back, therefore it was impossible for me to participate. With the support of my family, I was motivated enough to then go on to win a medal in the Asian Games, both individual and relay.”

Comparing the present to when she had just started out, she says that there are far more opportunities for women available and believes that the stigma around women in sports is slowly dying out.

Grateful for the impact sport has had on her life, Poovamma says, “It has taught me to be disciplined and determined. When you have an aim or a goal, you totally get involved in achieving it and this helps—it makes a huge difference.”

Encouraging women to follow their passion no matter what people say, Poovamma encourages them to chase their dreams. “You need to work hard to make that dream a success,” she says.

 Poovamma

HARMANPREET KAUR, CRICKETER

Thirty-year-old Harmanpreet Kaur didn’t let her gender come in the way of her cricketing dream. Despite it being a male-dominated sport, the athlete (an all-rounder for the Indian Women’s Cricket Team), Kaur was recently awarded the Arjuna Award for her contribution to the sport in 2017. In November 2018, she became the first woman to score a century in the Women’s Twenty20 International match for India.

Support from her family kept Kaur going even when society questioned her choice of profession. “I overcame them by playing amongst them with the same capacity and aggression. The memories of my good days help me overcome the bad days. This too shall pass, is what I used to keep telling myself.”

So what does being a sportswoman mean to this cricketer? “Sports has made me a very diverse person. The things you learn from it make you a better human being and much more resistant. Other than getting physically strong, it also makes you mentally strong, allowing you take everything in life as a challenge and never backing down,” she says.

If there’s a mantra that Kaur follows in her life it’s this: if you waste time, time will waste you. “When I started to value time and its importance. I decided to never waste a moment. Women can achieve anything they want. So, I’d like to tell every woman to dream, work hard and go for it.”

It’s time to break the barriers, get loud, play loud and get moving. For five weeks in Mumbai, Nike is providing women with a complimentary access to a variety of sports and fitness activities, across over 13 locations across the city. Learn from the best trainers, coaches and athletes at Nike Training Club (NTC) and Nike Run Club (NRC) sessions. In addition, Nike is also offering sports bra fitting services for women to find their perfect fit. Move to a positive change and Make The World Listen.

For more details and to join the movement, visit nike.com/Mumbai.