Pranati Nayak became only the second-ever gymnast to qualify for the Olympics when she made the cut to the Tokyo Games via a continental quota. Hailing from Midnapore, a town in West Bengal, the gymnast had to overcome several hurdles before she could find her foot at the top level.
Sports can teach us lessons which printed books can only imagine. However, it seldom happens that great success stories get surfaced only after putting pen to paper. Dipa Karmakar’s meteoric rise sent the whole nation into a state of frenzy, with the gymnast narrowly missing out on an Olympics bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In spite of returning empty-handed, it was one of the greatest stories and one for the ages to recall. Fortunately, we are being treated with yet another tale which is a potential bestseller even before reaching the climax.
Jhargram might be a well-known municipality in West Bengal, but it hardly ranks in the national stage popularity-wise. Justifiably, it was light years away from the glitz and glamour of metropolitan life. His father, the sole breadwinner of the family, managed to meet ends with the aid of his duty as a bus conductor, while her mother was a homemaker.
So when aspiring gymnast Pranati Nayak was initially rejected at the SAI centre in Kolkata for being ‘too thin,’ any other guardian would have given up hope. However, a flick looks pale without an unsung hero.
Clinging on to the slimmest of hopes, Pranati’s father parted ways with his job, his hard-earned wages, to accompany her for the long five-hour journey to the training centre in Kolkata. But that was a stop-gap solution. After repeated quests, she finally succeeded in handing herself shelter. However, she had to cater to the household’s demand of running errands like cleaning the house and washing dishes before rushing to her gymnastic sessions. As life turns out, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
While her career was steadily taking shape, retired athlete Minara Begum took notice of the developments and instantly lent a hand of support. Minara was shaken by the dedication shown by Pranati. Gauging the state of affairs Pranati’s family is going through, she decided to give the budding athlete accommodation, took care of her training, provided financial aid and handed her pocket money.
Pranati Nayak was growing in stature under the tutelage of her guardian angel, her saviour who saw her through tough times and pushed her to the other side of the ocean.
Sweating it out day and night in training, she was finally rewarded in 2018, with her handed a government job, in the railways department by virtue of the sports quota. It certainly made her life easy and brought back merrier times as Pranati forced her father to call it a day from his tiresome trade.
She was now managing it all by herself. But that was not the end game, as she had higher goals to achieve and nothing was easy to come by nor an overnight miracle was awaited. Remember, Rome was not built in a day!
However, her biggest ever achievement arrived in the most dramatic way. The bronze medal win at the 2019 Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships was by no means a paltry effort, however hardly anyone predicted what it would lead into. While she had hurdles to overcome to secure a quota for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the pandemic had already unsettled the normal course. Miraculously, the cancellation of the Senior Asian Championships cleared her path, as she qualified for the spectacle via the continental quota.
Fate works in mysterious ways - Pranati was initially a reserve behind a Sri Lankan athlete.
She became only the second gymnast ever to qualify for the Olympics. In no time the news flashed in the headlines of dailies and went viral over the internet, and Pranati received a congratulatory call. It was none other than her senior Dipa Karmaker. The 2016 Rio Olympian injected valuable inputs regarding her experience at the biggest stage, along with other tricks of the trade. Pranati, like an obedient student, imbibed everything to the core. Needless to say, her parents were over the moon, as their mobile phones were flooded with constant phone calls. After all, she was going to the Olympics.
However, much of the credit goes to Minari Begum, who stood by her side till now. Unfortunately, she won’t be along with her ward in Tokyo, as the SAI (Sports Authority of India) summoned a coach of their choice for the mega-event. That won’t stop her from cheering Pranati at the top of her voice from domestic space, along with 130-million souls when the quadrennial event gets underway on July 23. In spite of what happens, let’s not forget Pranati Nayak is already a hero and as I put down my words, several others have already started walking in her footsteps. India needs trendsetters like her!