Sports grounds breed legendary athletes and inspiring stories, but the road to success can be tricky, given the risk of injuries and lack of financing that plague many aspiring stars.
But in the history of sports in India, there have been several who have risen above these odds to give us stories to learn from.
This year’s National Games are no different, as promising athletes and sportspersons from across the nation have left us awe-struck with their performance and grit alike.
Here are five medal winners from the 36th National Games who fought tooth and nail for their dreams:
1. Hinaben Khalifa
Growing up in Vadagam in Aravalli, Gujarat, Hinaben had to endure many hardships to fulfil her dreams. Her father Salim Khalifa was paralysed while she was just a toddler, which forced her mother Sugraben to work as a house-help to make ends meet.
As a teenager, Hina would accompany her mother and sisters to different households so they could all maximise the area they worked in and earn enough to feed the family.
Even when Hina and her sister Madina started training in wrestling, they had to juggle attending school, training, and helping their mother. They didn’t give up and stuck to their schedules to make their dream come true.
While their struggles with poverty remain, Hina’s efforts have started translating into success. At the 2022 National Games, she clinched a bronze medal in the 53kg weight category and was the second woman wrestler from Gujarat to win a National Games medal.
2. Udaivir Singh
Udaivir Singh from Punjab recently won the men’s individual epee gold at the ongoing 36th National Games in Gandhinagar. He credits his win to his father Jaipal Singh, who had to make many sacrifices so he could give his son the best training available in fencing.
Jaipal, a former Indian boxer and silver medal winner at the 1986 Asian Games, exhausted all his savings for his son’s training. Udaivir, who has been training in France since 2018, had a monthly expense of around Rs 2 lakh, which his father would manage to send until a few months ago.
When he finally had no savings left, he sold a piece of land in Patiala to pay for his son’s training.
A few months ago, Udaivir and Chingakham Singh, Sunil Kumar and Sathasivan Nirmala, created history by winning the epee team gold at the Commonwealth Championships in London.
3. Siva Subramaniam
Growing up in Chennai, Siva Subramaniam didn’t have the means to afford sports training. Then he met Don Wilcox, a former pole vaulter who was providing free coaching to a group of underprivileged children.
This was the turning point in Siva’s life, and he started training under Wilcox, going on to win the National Record in his name in 2018.
For Siva, coach Wilcox was a father figure. Meanwhile, Wilcox dreamt of raising the young athlete into a champion pole vaulter.
As the power coach and student were making their way to fulfil their dreams, fate had other plans. Coach Wilcox passed away in 2021 due to COVID-19. His sudden demise left Siva in shock and he lost his drive for his sport.
Almost at the verge of giving up, he was made to change his mind and restore his love for the sport by Gerard, Wilcox’s son. Carrying forward his father’s vision, Gerard, who is hearing and speech impaired and a silver medallist at the Deaflympics (2005 and 2009), coached Siva to win a National Record after four years at the 36th National Games.
Siva dedicated his win to his late coach Don Wilcox.
4. Shraddha Gaikwad
Shraddha Gaikwad, the 16-year-old who won the women’s skateboarding (street) gold medal at the 36th National Games, has a life story more intriguing than fiction.
Hailing from Beed in Maharashtra, Shraddha and her family moved to Pune in search of better opportunities. Her father Ravindra took up the job as a security guard at a Decathlon sports store.
One day, when Shraddha came to deliver lunch for her father, she saw a customer trying to ride a skateboard. Interested, she also tried her hand at it. An employee found her playing with the skateboard and started giving her some basic training.
The turning point in her life arrived when she met her now coach Swapnil Magare, who was conducting a skateboarding workshop at the store. He was impressed by Shraddha’s performance and took her in for training.
Her first pair of shoes were gifted by the store manager, who found her riding the board barefoot. She went on to win a bronze medal at the Jugaad International Skateboarding Competition in Bengaluru in December 2018. She was also featured in the Netflix film ‘Skater Girl’, released in 2021.
5. Ranju Chingangbam
Ranju Chingangbam, who won the gold medal at the 36th National Games for street skateboarding (male), is now a ray of hope for a small skating community in Manipur. Hailing from Kongkham Leikai in Imphal East, the 17-year-old had to take up odd jobs to keep his dreams alive.
His father works as a daily wager and his mother runs a small roadside shop in Imphal. They didn’t have the means to afford Ranju’s training expenses, so he took up a painting job to fund his skateboarding. This earned him around Rs 350 – Rs 400 per day.
In 2018, Ranju visited the sports complex with one of his friends and saw kids skateboarding. He was instantly fascinated. Using his savings from the painting job, he took about one year to buy the equipment.
Ranju also won a silver at the 1st India Skate Roller Games, 2022 held in Mohali by the Roller Skating Federation of India (RSFI).
Edited by Divya Sethu
National Games: Hinaben Khalifa grappling her way out of hardships, by Firoz Mirza; published by The New Indian Express on 3 October 2022.
Father’s sacrifice to keep Udaivir’s fencing dream alive, by Firoz Mirza; published by The New Indian Express on 3 October 2022.
Pole vaulter Siva Subramaniam’s inspirational journey to a new National Record, by Avishek Roy; published by Hindustan Times on 3 October 2022.
Shraddha Gaikwad, skateboarding star whose life is stranger than fiction, by Vinayak Padmadeo; published by The Tribune on 2 October 2022.
Manipur 17-year-old Ranju has to do whitewash job to keep his skateboarding dreams alive, by Saurabh Dugal; published by. Pixastory on 2 October 2022.
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