Riding high on waves of success
It was a breezy morning and the waves were dancing away in tune with the wind. A perfect day for sailing, said coach Suheim Sheikh as he was monitoring the girls on sail on Hussainsagar waters in Hyderabad. “Today for the first time the girls are trying the bigger boat,” he added.
One of the young sailors being trained by the Yacht Club of Hyderabad, Lakshmi was maneuvering the Omega boat with relative ease considering it was her first time; the 4.7m training vessel is used for racing too. The girls will be trained next on the Laser so that they are ready for bigger events.
Lasers are Olympic class boats that are sailed at the Asian games and other large National events. Before graduating to bigger ones, the girls were initially training and competing with ‘Optimists’ that are for sub junior sailors and weigh less than 45kg.
This year has been pretty fruitful for the girl sailors.
14-year-old Lakshmi Nookarathnam and Tungara Mahboobie clinched gold and silver respectively at the international regatta - “Sailing The East Coast”, the three-day Indo-French event held in February where the girls competed with best of the Indian and French sailors.
Recently, yet another 15-year-old made Hyderabad proud by winning the second position in Telangana state championship - Majji Lalitha, whose father works as a mason has been doing consistently well. And now, it’s time for her to eye for bigger targets. “I want to become a champion,” she states.
The three girls and the others of their ilk training under Navika Project are testimony to the success of the exclusive initiative to train girls from impoverished backgrounds in sailing. Coach Suheim Sheikh is an IIT Madras alumni and a seasoned sailor, who was running his own company before he left his career behind and took to training the underprivileged kids, in 2009. He started with three boys.
Today, some of his boys are international champions, few others are with Indian Army and Navy. “In 2015 when we realised there were no girls in the team, we began to plan the Navika Project. During the time we did not have the wherewithal to bring girls into the sport.
So, we associated with Nanhi Kali project of Naandi Foundation to help us identify school girls who will be interested in taking up sailing. We started with a batch of nine girls.”
This was how girls like Lakshmi, Lalitha and Preeti studying with government schools entered the sport, and today they look forward to sailing and with sheer hard work are crossing milestones.
Preeti started to come for training since when she was 10 years old. Her mother works as a sales person in a shop. Preeti began by learning to swim, learnt about the knots and tacking and other basics of sailing. Today, she trains for around 2 hours every day during holidays and when schools are open she sails on Sundays.
She has participated quite a few sailing events and has been finishing 11th and 14th and is training hard to improve herself in the upcoming championships.
“I enjoy sailing. I did not know even to swim when I joined. But I learnt swimming, and with the help of my seniors and sir I learnt about knots, tacking and within no time I started to sail,” she related.
It is heartening to note that the parents of these kids are forthcoming in allowing them to train in water sports. Lalitha’s father Chiranjeevi shared, “She was doing well in sports already and I knew she had the talent. She would also swim with ease in our village. And I am happy she has taken up sailing.”
The parents come along with their children every Sunday to oversee the training and understand what it involves and appreciate the hard work. Along with training, the sailing club takes care of the food and tuitions of the kids. The girls do very well in academics too.
We take help from other organisations as well. In addition to encouraging the girls, RS Praveen Kumar, Secretary, Social Welfare Department and Shafi Ullah, Secretary Minorities Welfare Department have been providing support in areas where we do not have expertise, Suheim added.
“The families lead a hand to mouth existence and hence it is natural that they look for short term gains. But, it is important for them to realise that there is no such thing as short-term gain in sports.
One needs to look at the value of sports and the advantage of gaining exposure to something as adventurous as sailing. The girls become quite confident. I totally believe it’s important to be well educated too. We help the girls to study.
We will take care of career counselling so that we give solid graduates who are productive as far as the society is concerned. We will begin to see success when the first girl is gainfully employed either in the field of sailing or in other capacity.” “Whats more important is the pure joy on their faces when sailing,” he pointed out.