"Winning became so important that parents failed to consider their kid’s happiness. We need achievers but not at the cost of their childhood," says Sabari Karthik who now runs a sports enterprise to make sports accessible to school students.
“My appa strongly believed in the power of discipline and channelising energy constructively. I remember that he sat me down before my first karate class and explained how the two were essential values for success. Imbibing his wise words in my life is the biggest blessing and legacy I received from him,” shares Sabari Karthik, a two-time National gold medallist, with The Better India.
The 29-year-old Coimbatore resident is a karate champion, and apart from participating and winning in national events, he has won several laurels in the international arena as well, including the 2009 International Junior Karate Championship, and a Silver Medal in the 2011 Malaysian Open. He also represented the country in the 16th Asian Games in China.
The journey to the top was hardly a piece of cake for the young man, though.
The Period of Struggle
Sabari was only 11 when he lost his father, Gunasekaran, a head constable with the Coimbatore police force, and his passing was the beginning of his struggles.
“The first big change was when my mother and I had to move houses within the city, and I had to enrol in a new school. It was a sudden shift, and not very pleasant,” he recalls.
Soon, he realised that his dream of pursuing karate—something that he had shared with his father—was also dangerously close to slipping away.
While his father’s pension and mother’s job were enough for the daily expenses, the karate classes were becoming unaffordable.
“By then, sidekicks, elbow strikes, and mid-level punches had become a way of life. At home, I continued practising my moves as I was not just yet ready to part ways with my passion,” he says.
He soon worked a way out and began to teach karate at the Zen Martial Arts Academy and his school, PSG Sarvajana School. The mornings were spent at school, and the evenings were spent teaching children. This way, he not only honed his skills but also made enough money to continue attending classes.
The rigorous training and hard work paid off, and in 2006, Sabari was selected for a state championship. While he should have been elated, this just caused more worry.
“Our financial situation had improved only slightly, but the participation fees would still make a huge dent in the monthly budget. However, it was a huge tournament, and I was determined to prove myself, so I sold my bicycle. For another tournament, I took a loan of Rs 30,000 from my father’s pension,” he recalls.
While he faced several hiccups in his journey, there were some remarkable occurrences as well.
Narrating one such incident, he says, “I was supposed to travel to the Philippines for a tournament, and I needed money. This was before the advent of the internet. So, I opened yellow pages and wrote to as many companies and people as possible for donations. The idea worked! Strangers from around the state came forward and funded my trip, and it made me realise the power of humanity.”
Thinking Beyond Medals
Soon, Sabari stepped into the big league and participated in a slew of national and international karate tournaments. He also ensured that he didn’t abandon his studies entirely, and completed college and eventually acquired an MBA degree.
He was living the life he had always dreamed of but was still unsatisfied.
“Around me, I could see parents pressuring children to be the best in every field, be it studies or sports. Winning became so important that they failed to consider their kid’s happiness. We need achievers but not at the cost of their childhood,” says Sabari.
His stint as an award-winning sportsperson also made him realise how important it was for children and individuals to indulge in outdoor games and sports.
“I wanted to use my skills and make sports a part of everyone’s life, and that is why founded PHASE (Physical Health and Sports Education) Pvt. Ltd in 2017,” he mentions.
The sports enterprise collaborates with schools and colleges across India and helps them design and implement sports programmes in their curriculum, that not only improve physical strength and stamina, but also inculcate skills such as stress management, teamwork, communication, and leadership. The company charges a monthly fee of Rs 130 per child.
“It is a one-year programme which includes all necessary resources such as the appointment of trained coaches, provision of equipment and fitness assessment reviews. We also have review meetings with parents, where we show progress reports of kids in terms of their health and social quotient,” says Sabari.
Vouching for its effectiveness, Sophia Varkey, the Principal of Blue Mountain School, Nilgiris, says, “The course has several dimensions. It imparts education in sports and health. It looks at healthy eating habits, skill sets needed to play sports. Schools often tend to overlook skills like endurance, speed, hand-eye coordination and other things. We found children happy to work in groups, and they also gained a lot of confidence.”
Having successfully implemented the programme in several private schools, Sabari aims to take the course in government schools, and schools for differently-abled children.
“I want to make the right to sports as significant as a fundamental right. For this, we have started a social service where we visit schools that have very little exposure to games and sports and help them stay healthy and fit,’ he adds.
Sabari is looking for contributors who can help him financially and also for like-minded people who can join his noble cause. If you would like to help, you can reach him at email@example.com.
All pictures courtesy: Sabari Kartik
Also Read: The Karate Champ Who Fought Epilepsy and Poverty from a Kolkata Slum to Conquer the World
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)