How moms played a key role in the lives of sportspersons who brought laurels to the country

Successful sports stories aren’t created overnight. They need to be nurtured for years for the world to see them in full bloom. For an 87.58 metre throw or an academy that changes the course of the sport in the country forever, years of efforts populate the backstage. Devendra Jhajharia, India’s greatest Paralympian, lost an arm at the age of eight when he accidentally touched an electric wire while climbing a tree.

“The shock was more mental than anything else. When I came back home from the hospital I was depressed. For the first one month I refused to leave my house,” Jhajharia said.

A sense of inferiority and peer pressure had started to weigh on the mind of young Jhajharia. It was only when his mother, Jivani Devi, motivated him to go out and play with the neighbourhood kids that he finally started to socialise again. His mother was clear: Devendra was a victim of circumstances and was in no way inferior to anyone else. She inspired him to do everything that he did earlier.

He still remains indebted to her for the early confidence she was able to instil in a confused and scared 8-year-old child. Mariyappan Thangavelu, who won India’s first Paralympics gold in Rio 2016 in the high jump, lost a leg at the age of 5. He was playing outside his house when a state-owned transport corporation bus hit him. His father abandoned the family before he entered his teenage years and was brought up by his mother, Saroja Devi, who used to sell vegetables on a cycle in Tamil Nadu’s Salem district.

She struggled to make ends meet but never gave up trying to support her son. Eventually, Thangavelu emerged a Paralympic champion. His mother continued to sell vegetables even after he was a Paralympic champion and is a real-life story that can perhaps only happen in India. A trip to the Pullela Gopichand academy in Hyderabad can never be complete without dining with the young students and enjoying the superb food on offer. The academy may now be hailed for bringing glory to the country but things weren’t easy for Gopichand in the beginning. “I had to mortgage the house to be able to build the academy,” he said.

“At the time in 2004-05 my mother was diagnosed with cancer and it was tough. Had she not pushed me to do things, I don’t know if all of this could happen. And she fought her way through and today runs the academy with the same discipline that she had taught me as a child.”

While Gopi was talking about the challenges he had faced in bringing up the academy, his mother, Pullela Subbaravamma, had already taken charge! Chicken curry, aloo-bhindi, roti, rice, curd and achar constituted our lunch. “This is what the players get and it is all made inside the academy. We have eighty men and women who now live in the academy. Almost all of them eat breakfast, lunch and dinner here itself.The food helps them a lot because it means staying off outside food and also spares them the time of having to think of what to eat,’ said Subbaravamma, who heads the administrative wing in the academy. For Sudha Devi, mother of 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, her daughter’s birth was the turning point for her. Sakshi was born in 1992, a few weeks after the Barcelona Olympics. “Lakshmi finally came to our poor home that day,” said Sudha.

While she was still in the maternity ward, she received the appointment letter for her first job as an Anganwadi worker. May be this was how she garnered the strength to let Sakshi pursue her dream of becoming a wrestler. Unafraid of societal pressure, Sudha would accompany her young 12-yearold daughter early morning to the akhara for her wrestling classes. Malik would rise before dawn to make it to her 5.30am training session, while Sudha would make sure her daughter had a glass of fresh almond milk waiting for her at the end of practice.

And in all the sacrifices and efforts, there are some gems of laughter that define these relationships. Jhulan Goswami’s interaction with her mother, Jharna Goswami, at the end of a trip to the NCA was one such. Jhulan, who was recuperating from an injury at the time, had been prescribed bajra roti (pearl millet bread) by her nutritionist.

Her mother, having heard the request, wasn’t pleased. Jhulan had grown up eating her mother’s food and turned out fine. She had already included brown rice to the diet at Jhulan’s insistence but bajra roti was way out of line. Even without the bajra roti at home, Jhulan remains the legend that she is, and her mother remains the last word in her life! Happy Mother’s Day to all.

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