Only a medal has the power to transform sports and change mindsets

Growing up in Delhi, and as a pretty good student, I was all set to study hard for the next few years to become an IAS Officer some day. But then I ended up beating a boy up in school and there went my IAS dreams, right out of the window, never to be visited again.

The school taekwondo coach saw me fighting with a boy who had been harassing me for  a while and he sent for me. Instead of giving me detention, I was pushed to go take a look at Taekwondo training and I immediately fell in love with the sport.  In a way, I feel like Taekwondo was meant to be, my destiny.

But even after I became passionate about it, it was only a hobby that I really enjoyed like I previously enjoyed skating. Then with time, I figured that I have a good shot at making something out of it. So I joined a professional academy, Peace. Since then I have never had to look back.

I may be only seventeen but I have seen a lot of life already and I know what kind of problems athletes face in India, especially in the martial arts. There is very little awareness about the different aspects of martial arts. For most people, Judo, Karate, Taekwondo are all the same. I want to be the person to change that.

Therefore, it is not easy. In India if you pick up an unconventional sport it can be quite a challenge, once you have embarked on the path but have not achieved much. All of India runs behind a cricket ball.

Now it is a little more diverse and sports like football, kabaddi and badminton are also getting importance. But this is only because they all have popular commercial leagues now. The media, the sponsors, the politicians, no one cares about martial arts even though it is an olympic sport.

Also read: I was the only girl competing and playing with a pack of boys

I think a small disk of metal has the chance to change that. Believe me, I am not basking in some utopian world. I actually do strongly believe that all it takes is a medal. No amount of money can do what a medal can. Only a medal has the power to change politics, change people, change the mindset of the an entire nation. And I want to be the person to usher in that change.

But it takes a lot more than just me practising to achieve anything. I might be the face that is being projected but there are so many people who are working tirelessly to help me realise my dream. None of us think of money and honestly, I don’t think we would be able to work together so well if we were individually looking to make the most money out of it.

I have been extremely lucky that way. I know that because I have seen how far parents push their children to do things that they couldn’t.  At every step I have found someone to hold my hand and take me to the next level.

Also read: The first day of training, I came back home with blood all over my face

Firstly, I owe my very initiation into the sport to my school coach. Back then, for one year, my life was hell, when I see it in hindsight. I confessed to my parents that I was struggling to balance my taekwondo life and my school life and I needed to make a choice. My parents gave me their support without batting an eyelid. In school, my teachers were the epitome of leniency and let me off once I finished my tenth standard. I was allowed to make appearances only to take exams.

If I start talking about the kind of support I have received in Peace Academy, I wouldn’t know where to start. I found my life’s greatest inspiration in my coach Sayed Hassan Rezay. He is a world champion and massively popular in his home country, Afghanistan.

I found my life’s greatest inspiration in my coach Sayed Hassan Rezay. (Source: Kashish Malik/Facebook)

But here in India, no one knows him and he has dedicated his life towards making me a figure in Taekwondo and I hope nothing ever changes between us.

I love struggling and taking things in my stride but I know in my career, as of now, I have not even touched the tip of the iceberg. But I have faced a few road bumps too. For instance, I have gone two days without food, which was naturally not easy.

I have struggled and lost 8 to 9 kgs as part of training and have then gone on to do miserably in tournaments but I have learnt to accept failure. That is the beauty of sports, it teaches you to be mentally prepared for failure.

This is yet another reason why I would take this opportunity to implore to parents to shrug off their cliched mindset and to encourage their children into sports. Being into martial arts myself and being a girl from Delhi, I can testify to the fact that every girl needs to know the basics of being able to take care of herself without having to depend on a man.

Sports in general, it makes you a better person in my opinion. It does not always have to be about medals but just about a physical and mental state of well being.

Taekwondo has really taught me to embrace life. We take our lives for granted and forget how little time we have to enjoy. If you’re going to run behind the most money making jobs, then when are you going to enjoy your life? Money can’t bring you the joy that your passion can.

So let the children live their own lives without having the pressure of living up to their parents’ unfulfilled dreams. They also need to treat sports with a little less rigidity. If you think about it, so many parents pour their lives’ savings into the education of their children but for whatever reason they turn out to be ordinary and fail to bag an impressive job. No one looks down on it.

Now compare that to a parent who has done the same for their child, except in the realm of sports. If you invest in sports and the child fails to come home with a bag full of international medals, it is a matter of much laughter. Why can’t that be seen as simply a person doing it for his/her passion’s sake and not the money! What is the point of slaving away at something you don’t have your heart in when you can be infinitely happier but maybe not  rich enough? Is happiness really that passable?

I do not think I have done enough in life yet to consider myself a success. I am only starting out. I am looking at Asian Games later this year and then I want to make my country proud by becoming an Olympian.

As an end note, I want to remind everyone that apart from the army, it is only  sports persons who get the opportunity to have their nation’s flag flying above other countries and to hear the national anthem reverberating because of their achievements. I know I have been extremely lucky in many ways but I know what struggle can be and I would like to tell all those youngsters out there, take life by the collars and show the world who the boss is, there is a way out for each and every one of you.