Aruna B. Reddy has truly been a surprise packet. Initially a martial arts exponent, she switched over to gymnastics as her coaches felt that her flexible body and the ease with which she moved around were better suited for the latter discipline. And the 22-year-old gymnast has now emerged as the new star on the Indian sports horizon!
This Hyderabadi became the first Indian to win a World Cup medal when she bagged a bronze (vault) in Melbourne recently.
It has not been a fairytale journey for Aruna. There were lots of sacrifices and intense struggles ever since her father Narayana Reddy moved from Anantapur to Hyderabad because of his job commitments.
And, like the fathers of some of the contemporary champions such as Imran Mirza (Sania Mirza), Harvir Singh (Saina Nehwal), P. V. Ramana (P. V. Sindhu) and Koneru Ashok (Koneru Humpy), Aruna’s father too was passionate about his child making it big in the world of sports. So, he always ensured that she was there on time for school and also for training every day at the Lal Bahadur Stadium.
However, in 2010, when she was 14, a catastrophe struck Aruna. She lost her father! It was then the huge moral support of her elder sister Pavani and brother-in-law Janardhan Reddy which saw her continue to be passionate about sport.
“It was quite obviously the biggest tragedy that has hit our family. We lost someone who was inspirational in many ways. Those were testing times indeed. But, again, it was the indefatigable spirit of my family members including my mother (Subadhra) which rekindled my hopes,” Aruna recalls.
“And, in a way, I then felt the best tribute to my father, who sacrificed so much, was to do well at the highest level. And that the World Cup bronze happened to be my first ever international medal is something which I surely cherish,” she says with a sense of pride. “This was apparently possible because of the great coaching stint in Uzbekistan under the foreign coach. No doubt, since I got the basics right from my previous coaches, I enjoyed whatever minor technical adjustments I had to make to keep improving,” says Aruna.
Aruna’s coaches — Swarnalatha, the late Giriraj (he died in a road accident), G. Ravinder and now Brij Kishore (who, unfortunately, is hospitalised with a gastric problem) — at the State level and Bisweswar Nandi at the National level were the ones who had initially moulded her into a champion performer.
“I always knew that she had the potential to be a big name. But, I must tell you now that she was a victim of dirty politics which denied her many more opportunities to represent India long back,” insists Ravinder.
For her part, Aruna recalls that she was a big fan of the legendary Nadia Comaneci and quite naturally dreamt of being a gymnast though she was into karate. And the rest, as they say, is history!
“With the Commonwealth Games and the World championship scheduled this year, I am sure I will be a force to reckon with given the kind of planning the SAI and the Go Sports Foundation have been doing in my preparations,” she says.
Age is not a factor
“I don’t think age is a factor. If you look at how Dipa dazzled in the Rio Games, I feel it is a misconception that Indian gymnasts past 20 would struggle. Our results prove the contrary,” says the former National Games gold medallist.
Aruna says that the more famous Dipa Karmakar has been a huge inspiration after her Rio Olympics show (though she did not win a medal). “She showed the way, literally, for many like me that there is future in gymnastics if we complement determination with hard work and the desire to improve skills.
“It is a great feeling that Indian gymnasts doing well in international events are also being recognised. There is a lot of hope for all of us,” she says with a smile.
“I am conscious of the fact that I have to keep evolving with each training session to be on a par with the best in the world. The competition is just unbelievable. And, in vault especially, I know what it means to be in the elite group of top performers,” Aruna says. Well, when Aruna walked into her residence in Attapur to warmly hug her mother on her return with the World Cup bronze, it was more than symbolic in many ways! Tears of joy rolled down as the mother and daughter struggled to control themselves.
“We all knew she would make it big, but honestly never thought a World Cup medal would come so soon,” said the proud mother even while Aruna’s sister reminds us that all their support would have come to a nought if Aruna had not worked hard to realise her goals.
“This (World Cup medal) is perhaps the best tribute she could pay to her father,” said the family members even as Aruna garlanded her father’s picture hanging on the wall at their residence on arrival.
Well, Aruna joins the formidable women’s force — such as Sania, Mithali, Saina, Sindhu, Harika — from Hyderabad which has brought laurels to India in the world of sport. More importantly, they are keen to script many more success stories.
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