These 7 Rags to Riches Stories of Great Indian Sports Stars Are EPIC

Many of India’s past and current sports stars come from very humble origins. Children of farmers, labourers and petty shop owners, they have seen severe hardships and their families have sacrificed a lot to put them on the path to success. But they have found a place in the sun despite all odds being stacked against them. Here’s toasting their grit and determination!

“My father works in a wire factory in Jaipur, so it was difficult for him to let me play cricket. But he sacrificed a lot and helped me enroll in an academy in Sikar. Whatever I am today is because of my parents who believed in me.” says young Nathu Bhagat Singh, who was recently picked by the Mumbai Indians for IPL, for a whopping Rs.3.2 crore.

Here’s a look at some other inspirations in the world of sports, who rose from humble beginnings and went on to receive national awards and win international acclaim.

1. Milkha Singh or The Flying Sikh

Milkha Singh

Photo Credits: Left –, Right – Sanyam Bahga, Wikipedia

Milkha Singh used to walk 10 km barefoot to reach his school in the part of Punjab that’s now in Pakistan. He watched his parents, brother and two sisters murdered in front of his eyes in the violence triggered during the partition of India and Pakistan. Milkha was lucky enough to escape – he went on to live briefly with his married sister before moving to a refugee camp in Delhi. He was also jailed for some time in Tihar for travelling in a train without a ticket – his sister sold her jewellery to secure his release.

Disillusioned with his life, Milkha even considered becoming a dacoit. But he was persuaded by a friend to join the Indian Army in 1951. It was here that he was exposed to athletics and received his training.

Milkha won the gold medal at the 1958 Commonwealth Games  in 400 m, the gold medal in the 1958 Asian Games for 200 m and 400 m, and a gold medal in the 1962 Asian Games. He received the Padma Shri from the Government of India in 1958.

2. Deepika Kumari

deepika kumari

Photo Credit: Youtube

Deepika Kumari’s journey is a classic case of an individual fighting her way out of obscurity. Currently World No. 2 archer, Deepika Kumari won a gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the women’s individual recurve event.

Shivnarayan Mahato, an auto-rickshaw driver and Geeta Mahato, a nurse in Ranchi Medical College, are the proud parents of the gold medalist. The parents stay at Ratu Chati village, 15 km from Ranchi. Since the family was unable to afford professional archery equipment, this gutsy woman started practising with bamboo-made bows and arrows.

Deepika Kumari was conferred the Arjuna Award, India’s second highest sporting award, in the year 2012.

3. Vijender Singh

Vijender Singh
Photo Credit: Youtube

The 2008 Beijing Olympics Bronze Medalist, Vijender Singh, is the son of a bus driver with Haryana Roadways.

His father drove buses overtime to pay for Vijender and his brother’s schooling. In order to ensure a better life for their poor family, Vijender and his elder brother Manoj decided to learn boxing. After Manoj succeeded in entering the Indian Army in 1998 with his boxing credentials, he decided to support Vijender financially so he could continue his boxing training.

In January 2010, Vijender Singh was awarded the Padma Shri for outstanding contribution to Indian sports.

4. PT Usha or Payyoli Express


Photo Credit:

Once all struggles are grasped, miracles are possible. The 1986 Asian Games in Seoul saw PT Usha win 4 Golds and a Silver in track and field. From 1982-1994, Asia’s sprint queen hauled in 4 Golds and 6 Silvers in four Asian Games. Her most unbelievable run was at the Asian Athletic Championships through the decade, where she won a total of 22 medals, more than half of which were gold (14, exactly).

Success is never as interesting as struggle. Born in a poor household, PT Usha’s father earned his living through a small clothing store. Usha went through numerous health problems at a young age. Apart from the Padma Shri and Arjuna Awards, Usha garnered a total of 30 international athletic honours and titles for excellence in athletics, and more than 100 medals.

5. Irfan Pathan


Photo Credit: Wikimedia

India takes pride in this superb swing bowler. From a boy whose deliveries wouldn’t reach the other end of the cricket pitch in the beginning, to the Player of the Match in a World Cup final, Irfan Khan Pathan has more than 100 Test wickets to his name.

Like for other sportspersons, it was an uphill battle for Irfan too. Born in Vadodara, he grew up with his half-brother Yusuf in a mosque in an impoverished family. His father was a muezzin. Although their parents wished them to become Islamic scholars, Pathan and his brother took an interest in cricket and the rest, as they say, is history.

In September 2014, the Pathan brothers jointly launched their dream venture — The Cricket Academy of Pathans (CAP). The Academy has tied up with former India coach Greg Chappell and Cameron Tradell as chief mentors. Chappell coaches the coaches at the Academy.

6. Mary Kom

mary kom

Photo source:

Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, better known as Mary Kom, is a boxer from Manipur. Kom was born in Kangathei, Manipur. Her parents, Mangte Tonpa Kom and Mangte Akham Kom, worked in jhum fields, surviving on subsistence agriculture. She used to help them in the fields and take care of her siblings too since she was very young. Mary had to overcome a lot of opposition to take up boxing, a sport that has traditionally been considered masculine.

She is a five-time World Amateur Boxing Champion and the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the six world championships. She is also the only Indian woman boxer to have qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics, competing in the flyweight (51 kg) category and winning the bronze medal. She also won the first ever boxing gold medal for India at the Asian Games.

7. Mahendra Singh Dhoni


Photo source:

M.S. Dhoni is the current captain and wicket keeper of the Indian cricket team in limited over formats. Although his family originally belongs to Uttarakhand, Dhoni was born in Ranchi where his father Pan Singh worked in a junior management position with a private sector company. Dhoni excelled in sports in school and was selected to play cricket for the 1997/98 season Vinoo Mankad Trophy Under-16 Championship. Later, he joined Indian Railways and worked as a Train Ticket Examiner (TTE) at Kharagpur railway station from 2001 to 2003. His colleagues remember him as an upright and honest worker, with a mischievous side to him – he and his friends once dressed up in bedsheets as ghosts and scared the night guards at the railway complex.

Dhoni holds numerous captaincy records such as most wins by an Indian captain in Tests and ODIs, and most back-to-back wins by an Indian captain in ODIs. He received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 2007 and the Padma Shri in 2009. Dhoni is now the Vice President of India Cement Ltd., the company that owns the IPL team Chennai Super Kings.
In June 2015, Forbes ranked Dhoni at 23rd in the list of highest paid athletes in the world, estimating his earnings at USD 31 million.

These shining sportspeople of our country bear true testimony to the old adage – where there’s a will, there’s a way!

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