Hailing from a remote part of the country in Varanasi, without much sporting background, the Singh sisters, Priyanka, Divya, Prashanti, Akanksha and Pratima, have made basketball popular with their achievements.
It was an exhilarating experience for all the viewers in a webinar, put together as part of the physical education drive by the Sports Ministry, to hear the five sisters talk about their remarkable success in combining education and sports in scripting a bright career for each one of them.
"We all followed Priyanka and Divya to play basketball. Our dad let us play, only on the promise that we would get good grades in school," said Prashanti, the former captain of the national team, and a recipient of Arjuna and Padma Shri awards.
Unlike Priyanka who moved to Thailand and later to South Korea, serving as a physical education teacher in schools, and Divya who went to the US on a scholarship and coached teams there before returning to the country, Prashanti was lucky to be employed by the Maha Nagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) early in her career.
Quite remarkably, all of them have pursued education for many post graduate degrees, and Pratima, who is married to cricketer Ishant Sharma, is pursuing Ph.D., after having done M.Phil., and topping the NIS coaching course.
Except the eldest of sisters, Priyanka, all the four have represented India with distinction, competing in the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Asian Championships.
Akanksha was quite pleased to explain how she was able to overcome her short height of five and a half feet, to be an indispensable part of the Indian team for more than a decade, before she moved on to running the sports set up in various Universities, and having her own basketball academy.
"If you have speed, good jump, quickness and agility, you can equalise for lack of height in basketball," said Akanksha.
Pratima recalled how Divya presented her a Scooty as a reward for her faring well in the tenth board exams and how she continued to excel in studies, while fulfilling her dream of playing for the country.
"I don’t accept that players cannot get good marks. They are very sharp and can understand in five minutes what the regular students may take an hour. Don’t be lethargic. Devote time for studies," said Pratima.
"Keep at it, keep working hard. Don’t give the excuse of lack of facilities. If you continue to train well with the zeal to improve, you will succeed. There is no substitute for hard work," said Akanksha.
Priyanka said that schools in Korea had separate physical education and athletic departments, in addressing the talent of the youth in the best possible way.
"In our schools, the PET is a discipline teacher," said Priyanka, looking back at the Indian system.
All the sisters praised their guru Amarjeet Singh, who coached them and gave a solid foundation for their dreams to spread wings.
"Success comes only after challenges. Without our physical education teachers, we wouldn’t have known our potential," said Prashanti.
"Even if your are the best player, without education you don’t have the confidence," said Divya, who after many stints of coaching and sports management, is working as a coach with the SAI.
Akanksha remembered playing two tournaments simultaneously for her college and the Delhi team. "Your success depends on how much you push yourself. Sports is a tool to develop personality,"said Akanksha.
"We started because of the interest in sports. It became a habit, then it has become a life style,’’ said Priyanka, quite proud to have devoted 30 years to sports.
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