Manu Bhaker has made the country proud by shooting her way through her second consecutive gold medal at the ongoing ISSF World Cup at Mexico City. The Haryana girl shot a total of 237.5 to defeat Alejandra Zavala Vazquez, the local favourite, making the 16-year-old the youngest Indian shooter to win a World Cup gold. She won her second gold when she partnered with Om Prakash Mitharval for the 10m air pistol mixed team event.
In a country where sports has been traditionally a male domain, a number of women athletes have been fighting against odds to bring laurels to the country. This Woman’s Day, we salute 10 women sports stars who have brought glory to the nation:
Navjot Kaur: International wrestler Navjot Kaur became the first Indian woman to win gold at the recently held senior Asian Championship at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The 28-year-old wrestler beat Japan’s Miya Imai 9-1 at the recently held Championship. The daughter of a farmer from the Bagaria village located near the border town of Tarn Taran in Punjab, Kaur’s father had to borrow heavily to support her training and had accumulated a loan of around Rs 13 lakhs over the years. Kaur’s win will help lessen her family’s burden. The wrester had also won a silver at the 2013 Asian Championship and a bronze in 2014 Commonwealth games.
Mamata Poojari: Hailing from the small village of Hermunde in Karnataka’s Udipi district, Mamata Poojari has overcome challenges to become the internationally renowned player that she is today. The current captain of the Indian women’s kabaddi team, Mamata was born to a farmer couple and learnt the sport by practising on a mud court. While her parents were hesitant because they felt that the sport would come in the way of her marriage, the villagers would often berate her parents for allowing a girl to return home late every day from her coaching. Mamata, however, pursued the sport with determination and with the support of her elder brother who quit his studies after Class X to take a job in a garage and support the family. It was after she helped India win a gold in the 2006 South Asian Games in Colombo, Sri Lanka, that her parents and the villagers realised her potential. There has been no looking back for Mamata since and her under captaincy, the Indian team has clinched numerous medals. She has been awarded the Arjuna Award and the Rajyotsa Prashasti, the second highest award of the Government of Karnataka.
Mandeep Kaur Sandhu from village Chakkar, Ludhiana became world junior boxing champion in 2015./1 pic.twitter.com/D9uzTvd0yC
— Harsimrat Kaur Badal (@HarsimratBadal_) 20 February 2017
Mandeep Kaur Sandhu: Hailing from Chakar, a village in the Ludhiana District of Punjab, boxer Mandeep Kaur Sandhu’s elder brother inspired her to don boxing gloves. Her father, a farmer, however, did not even have the money to pay for her boxing gloves – the family owned only an acre of land, a buffalo and earned just about Rs 20,000 a year. Despite the hardships, Mandeep would get up at 4 AM every day to train and has not missed a single practice session till now. The 19-year-old boxer went on to win Gold in the 52 category at the Junior Boxing World Championship held at Taipei, in May 2015.
— Walk Of Hope (@WalkOfHope2015) 3 June 2015
Malathi Krishnamurthy Holla: In her authorised biography titled ‘A Different Spirit’, the international para-athlete from India recounts, “When I was small, I wanted to be first among my friends who used to run to the backyard to pick the fallen mangoes. I wanted to fly like a bird fearlessly from one place to another. But as I grew up I realised that you need legs to run and wings to fly. I was hurt, but I didn’t give up. I knew, one day, I would run…” And Malathi never gave up. Struck by polio when she was barely a year old, Malathi is paralysed from the waist down. Despite this, the Padma Shri holder and Arjuna awardee has over 300 medals in her kitty, having represented the country in major sporting events such as the Paralympics, the Commonwealth Games and Open Championships, apart from various national events. She also runs the Mathru Foundation where she provides shelter to 16 children with various disabilities.
Mary Kom: Born in 1983 to a poor family in Manipur’s Kangathei village, Mary Kom spent her childhood and early years helping her parents who were tenant farmers in the jhum fields, looking after her younger siblings, attending school and training. Though Mary Kom was good in athletics, her parents were not keen on allowing her to take up boxing as a sport as they feared that she would injure her face, thereby reducing her chances of marriage. It was only after her photograph appeared in a newspaper after she had won the state boxing championship, that her father found out that she was playing the sport and started to support her decision.
Mary Kom went on to win the bronze medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics – the only Indian woman boxer to have qualified for the Olympics. She is also a five-time World Amateur Boxing champion and the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each of the six world championships. Mary Kom will be leading the women’s contingent at the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
Dipa Karmakar: The first Indian woman to have represented the country in gymnastics, Dipa Karmakar brought India on the international map in gymnastics when she attained the fourth place in Women’s Vault Gymnastics at the Rio Olympics 2016. She is also one among only five women to have successfully attempted the extremely difficult and dangerous Produnova vault, which is also called the ‘vault of death’. Hailing from Agartala, Tripura, Karmakar overcame a flat foot condition, a situation which is said to be a huge drawback for gymnasts, and developed an arch on her foot through extensive training. As she did not have the right type of equipment that international gymnasts trained on, Dipa had to rely on stacks of mattresses during her training. However, her determination and eagerness to learn helped her scale
PT Usha: Nicknamed the Payyoli Express, PT Usha is another classic example of struggling against all odds to excel. Born into a poor household, PT Usha was an avid sportsperson in school, competing and winning in almost all races. When she passed out of school, she enrolled in a sports school for women that the Kerala Government had started in Kozhikode, and she was chosen to represent her state. PT Usha was spotted by athletics coach OM Nambiar, who took her under his tutelage. From then on there was no turning back for the queen of the Indian track. She went on to win medals at inter-state meets, silver at the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games, Gold at the Asian Championships in Kuwait City in 1983, four golds at the 1986 Asian games in Seoul. PT Usha has won 22 medals, four of which were gold, during Asian Athletics Championships from 1982-94.
Aruna Budda Reddy: The 22-year-old, who cites Dipa as her inspiration, created history when she became the first Indian gymnast to bag an individual medal in the Gymnastics World Cup in Melbourne. Aruna, who hails from Hyderabad, finished third after Slovenia’s Tjasa Kysslef and Australia’s Emily Whitehead, with a score of 13.649, in the women’s vault event. Aruna will be a part of the Indian contingent at the upcoming Commonwealth Games to be held in Melbourne.
Deepika Kumari: The current World number 5, and former number one archer, has struggled hard to reach where she is today. Deepika Kumari was born to an autorickshaw driver and a nurse at Ranchi Medical College. She started off her archery practice by throwing stones at mangoes, as a child. Since it was difficult for her parents to financially support her dream of becoming an archer, she had to make do with bamboo bows and arrows for practice. Deepika entered the Arjun Archery Academy at Kharsawan, but it was at the Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur that Deepika was able to start her professional archery journey. Here she trained using proper equipment and uniform. Deepa went on to become the world champion in archery after she won the Archery World Cup in 2012.
— Tracy Ramsden (@Tracy_Ramsden) January 4, 2017
Neetu Sarkar: From being married off at the age of 13 to a mentally challenged person 30 years her senior and escaping her abusive father-in-law, to being married a second time and becoming a mother of twin boys at the age of 14, Bhiwani native Neetu Sarkar’s story is traumatic yet inspirational. Not one to give in, Neetu found love and support from her second husband who nurtured her ambition to become a wrestler. Fighting poverty and a traditional mindset which frowned upon women taking up wrestling, Neetu went on to becoming an international wrestler.
To avoid her family members and her family, Neetu used to get up at 3 AM every day to go running for 10 kms so that she could shed off her excess weight. Neetu’s turning point came when she started training under Coach Ziley Sing at the National Stadium in Rohtak in 2011. She soon won a bronze medal at a national event. Apart from winning silver in the 48 kg category at the National Games in Kerala, Neetu has also represented the country in the World Junior Wrestling Championships in Brazil.