The Wind beneath Her Wings: Attitudes to Adopt from India’s Women Sporting Heroes
Mary Kom, Sania, Sindhu, Saina, the Phogat sisters… the roll-call for Indian sportswomen, who have made a mark on the world stage, is getting longer. Each one is a trailblazer in her own right. They have battled patriarchy, prejudice, and poverty in their quest to be the most they can be. They are role models not only for the upcoming generation but for every woman out there who is on a mission to fulfill her potential.
What fuels their hunger for excellence? Why does adversity just spur them on? And most importantly in the Indian context, how did they rise above the misogyny so entrenched in the country? In the answers to these questions every woman can find her lodestone; to help chart her own voyage.
Walking the untrodden trail is a lonely affair. And Mary Kom knows it only too well. When she set out to become a boxer she did not have anyone’s support; not even her parents’. She confronted criticism and disdain at every turn and overcame it all.
Mary’s journey in her own words –
“People used to say that boxing is for men and not for women, and I thought I will show them some day… and I proved myself”.
And in doing so, she led the way for so many of her sisters. A real leader is our Mary, so aptly called Magnificent Mary.
As any sportsperson will tell you, it is way more challenging to stay on the top than to reach the top. As the high of reaching the peak fades away, the fight to retain it begins. And these champions struggle hard to gain that inch which will allow them to sustain their hold on their prize.
Saina Nehwal has been fierce in her charge to be among the best and has let neither injury nor newer aspirants thwart her. She teaches women how to be an advocate for their own interests. Focusing only on what would prove beneficial for her career, and going against popular opinion, she switched her coaching base to Bangalore to train under Vimal Kumar. And now, recently, she has moved back to her original coach as she focuses on regaining lost ground after her knee surgery. Holding one’s career interests above all other considerations; does not come easy to Indian women, but it is a crucial requirement along the long, hard road to success.
The path to being world-class in a sport is never only about skill; it also has a lot to do with the ability to come out strong in stressful, high-pressure situations. Winning games is equally about winning the mental battle. Many a controversy, personal and professional, has crossed Sania Mirza’s path. The tennis ace from Hyderabad has handled all of them with remarkable sang-froid. Former Indian tennis player Nirupama Sanjeev on being asked about Sania Mirza said –
“She never wilts under pressure… She has nerves of steel.”
It is time for every woman to be a woman of steel. May their ilk multiply!
Perhaps, the most significant obstacle to an Indian woman’s success is her tendency to accept status quo. Women have been conditioned to be the one to make all the compromises; whether it is giving up a promising job to move to the city where her husband works, being the one who stays home if a child is ill or refusing a promotion as the new role involves travel. How do our champions deal with this? Well, one answer to this would be that the currently married women champions had earned laurels before their marriage. So, they married based on the understanding that they would not be willing to slow down even after tying the knot. The first learning from this for the average Indian woman is to try and establish herself before contemplating marriage.
The second is best articulated by this quote from Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In –
“When it comes time to settle down, find someone … Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist…”
It may or may not be possible for everyone, but it is, food for thought.
Clearly Blue is an all women team of re-starters playing their second career innings. These women champions of India are our inspiration. In our pursuit of excellence in content marketing, we look up to these women sporting heroes as we reach for the stars.