Dipa Karmakar | The girl who climbed many a mountain to reach the sky

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Dipa Karmakar | The girl who climbed many a mountain to reach the sky

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it,” – Michael Jordan.

For India’s gymnastics queen Dipa Karmakar, the obstacles started coming from a very young age, but with each stumbling block, she learnt to grow stronger, more resilient, and ultimately reach for the sky. For some, continuous challenges in life rob them of their very passion but not for the Tripura girl who never feared to face them.

Even when pushed to the edge of the cliff, she never failed to come back. If today she has put India on the world map by becoming the country’s first female gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, it is because of her sheer willingness to persevere and the fact that she never stopped dreaming.

Lack of curvature of the feet could be a gymnast’s worst nightmare as it is essential for giving the desired lift to the body. Dipa’s gymnastics dreams could have been nipped in the bud as she was born with flat feet.

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But she was never one to give up nor was her coach Bisweswar Nandi who has remained by her side since she was a six-year-old. Intensive conditioning exercises followed for two years which helped her to point her toes.

Unfortunately, that was not the only hurdle for the precocious talent who was introduced to the beautiful world of artistic gymnastics by her weightlifting coach father, Dulal. As is the case with many of India’s gifted athletes, she too suffered from the absence of a proper infrastructure.

Also, read : Road to Rio: The great Indian dream

Starting out, the budding gymnast did not even have a vaulting table – a requisite for anyone pursuing this sport. Mats stacked one upon the other were what constituted a substitute – an approach that is extremely hazardous.

But she did not let these shortcomings of the sports system crush her dreams. Rat-infested gyms could not throw her off nor could the floodwater during heavy monsoons that would inundate the training centre.

Neither could the fact that she did not even have the right shoes and had to borrow a leotard when she participated in a competition for the first time. Even the dearth of a national federation was not enough to daunt her.

Karmakar’s staunch determination is what has helped her pass these tests and reach the peak today.

Perhaps that is what makes her story more inspiring. To cross these hurdles and stand shoulder to shoulder with the other Rio qualifiers who never even had to come close to such ordeals is what makes this vault exponent stand out.

Dipa has always believed in the motto – “To achieve something in life, you have to take risks.”

And the risks involved with executing the rare Produnova vault – her forte – are considerable and quite grave. The routine which is made up of a front handspring and two front somersaults threatens to invite death if there’s one tiny slip. It is of such a concern that there have even been discussions on completely banning it.

Dipa, though, is unperturbed and absolutely not unnerved by such consequences. Her quiet confidence in her abilities is something to revere. Pushing the boundaries, Karmakar is today just one out of five women to have successfully completed such a daring somersault.

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The 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow was her first big trial. By then, she had dominated the domestic circuit, winning both the Junior Nationals as well as the Seniors. Watching compatriot Ashish Kumar grab the historic men’s vault silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games had stirred the young girl who promised to herself to bring back a medal from the prestigious event in four years’ time.

She kept her word, but it was not without any hassle. A swollen leg put her on the brink of a withdrawal from her pet event. Despite warnings from her team, Karmakar not only went on to participate in it but she brought home a bronze medal, and with it, the long-coveted recognition and stardom.

From obscurity to being thrust under the spotlight overnight – many athletes lose their footing with burgeoning expectations. Dipa did not let that happen which is so admirable.

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After narrowly missing out on a medal at the 2014 Asian Games where she finished fourth in vault, she went on to add the bronze in that category at the 2015 Artistic Gymnastics Asian Championships. In between, she reached unprecedented heights in her chosen discipline as she logged the highest score on a Produnova with a 15.100.

As success started coming in, she remained grounded, and that is a huge lesson for many young aspirants. Unassuming, modest and singularly committed to her sport, she breached newer barriers at the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

She engraved her name in the record books as the first Indian ever to make it through to an apparatus final of this elite event where she performed with gusto to end up fifth in vault. A podium finish would have awarded her the Olympic ticket.

Instead of lamenting over the near-miss, it only intensified her hunger for the Olympic ticket. And she lived up to her own expectations when she fulfilled it in her very next opportunity at the Rio test event this April.

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Dipa knows the enormity of the pressure that comes with that quota. And she also knows that even a 15.100 might not be enough for a medal with the gritty competition that she will be facing in Brazil. Karmakar’s team has set their sights on a 15.700 or 15.800 as their target. Given that she never tires of seeking further excellence, such a goal might even be accomplished no matter how much unattainable it looks now.

In a recent BBC documentary, the 22-year-old has said: “After I got the 2014 bronze medal, my life changed.”

That momentous feat not only altered her life but it also revolutionized India’s sporting culture. Gymnastics is no longer considered an alien sport in this country nor is India an unfamiliar name in the world of gymnastics any more.

Just like the Sania Mirzas and the Saina Nehwals, Dipa Karmakar is now another icon who has been the shining beacon for her sport. Today, little girls can hope, dream, and persevere to become the next Dipa.

Karmakar might be leaping for a Rio Olympic medal, and in a few months’ time, may even grab one, but this will undoubtedly remain her biggest achievement till date.

Also, read : Dipa Karmakar : My first target will be to reach the final at Rio

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