Overcoming odds to pursue a dream

Life isn’t easy for the 13-year-old B. Jyothika. From the heat, dust and toil here, to the rather elitist world of rowing, her journey has been spirit lifting.

Jyothika with her parents outside their shop.   -  S. Dinakar

It’s a dot on the highway, the petty shop where she sits when not attending school or making waves in water.

Vehicles whizz past, the roar of the engines fills the air, and customers walk into this tiny outlet seven kilometres beyond Sriperumbudur.

Life isn’t easy for the 13-year-old B. Jyothika. From the heat, dust and toil here, to the rather elitist world of rowing, her journey has been spirit lifting.

Look into her eyes and you can catch a glimpse of her fierce determination. The girl’s tough.

Indeed, the shy Jyothika has a heart larger than her small frame. Given her background and modest means, she has been breaking through barriers.   

Remarkably, Jyothika is the gold medallist, along with her partner Mariam Belinda, in the double sculls event of the last sub-junior Nationals in Kolkata.

It’s a quest driven by passion. Every day she travels 80 km, getting to and returning from the Sri Ramachandra Water Sports Centre in Porur.

She said with a smile. “I get up at four am and my father drops me at the bus station at Sriperumbudur. I train at the Sports Centre till 8 a.m., then change into my school uniform and take the bus back to Sriperumbudur.”

At the school, her elder sister Monica brings her lunch. Considering her achievements in rowing, Jyothika’s Government School has given her special permission to join classes a little late at 10 a.m.

Back from school at around 4 p.m. she spends some time at the shop with her parents E. Bhaskaran and Sujatha, before delving into her studies.

It’s a physically and mentally draining routine but her enthusiasm for rowing hasn’t dimmed a tad.

How Jyothika took to rowing is an interesting tale in itself.

Her elder brother Shoban Babu worked as an assistant to Jesus Rajkumar, the Physical Director at SRM Engineering College, who was seeking a rowing partner for his daughter Mariam.

Shoban thought about his sister but there was a problem. She did not know swimming and to be a rower she had to be a swimmer first.”

Taking her to a swimming pool was beyond their means and Shobhan did something innovative. “I took her to a well, jumped inside myself and told her to take the leap down. She was hesitant at first but learnt to swim quickly.”

Along the way, many have come forward to lend Jyothika a helping hand. “Dr. Arumugam at Sri Ramachandra Medical College and my coach V. Nithya, and Rowing Federation of India treasurer M. Balaji have been there for me,” she said.

And Jyothika dreams big. “I want to win a gold for India in the 2024 Olympics,” she said.

Given the manner she has been bucking the odds, nothing seems impossible for the brave Jyothika far far away from the gilt-laden metros.