For any person whose inspiring stories we read, or rather, watch, in order to stop procastinating, we usually learn about how it is not just that one person who has contributed to the success story. This is especially prominent in the world of sports. They themselves make immense sacrifices to succeed, but we usually don't realize how much of an effort their family, or friends have put in. With biopics becoming a trend in India, this has been portrayed more and more. But then again, biopics aren't always as accurate as documentaries and aren't made for everyone, only for those which may sell tickets.
Deepika Kumari is an Indian archer. Has six World Cup golds to her name in both individual and team events. She was awarded the Arjuna Award (a prestigious award in the field of sports) in 2011; the FICCI Sportsperson of the Year Award in 2014; the Padma Shri in 2016; and the Young Achievers Award (felicitated by Vogue) in 2017.
Deepika was born in Ratu Chati- a small village in Jharkhand, 15 km away from Ranchi. Her father, Shivnarayan Mahato is an auto-rickshaw driver while her mother, Geeta Mahato is a nurse at Ranchi Medical College. Deepika was introduced to the sport by her cousin Vidya Kumari, who was an archer herself at the time, residing at Tata Archery Academy. While her father was initially against the idea of archery for Deepika owing to social stigma, her mother encouraged it, encouraging Deepika to be more independent and bold. Even still, due to financial situations at her house, it was always difficult for her parents to buy the new, expensive equipment for her training. She was always supported nonetheless, her parents often even skipping meals to help her out.
Deepika practised archery using homemade bamboo bows and arrows, aiming for mangoes on trees. She later enrolled at the state-run Arjun Archery Academy, that provided free training facilities and equipment for underprivileged athletes. She breezed through the local and state competitions, gaining prominence. She met the coach of the Indian archery team, Dharmendra Tiwari, who asked her to move to Jamshedpur, and enroll at Tata Archery Academy.
This move finessed her further, and it was here that she trained with proper equipment and received formal training- now winning major competitions, and even establishing herself internationally after winning the gold at the Cadet World Championships in 2009. The same year, she was selected for Youth World Archery Championships in the USA, bagging the gold here too. Deepika was unstoppable. She was young, just 15, but talented. Later in 2010, she even won golds for both individual and team events at the Commonwealth Games. This was followed by a bronze at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. In 2012, post her first individual World Cup title in Turkey, she became the top-ranked woman archer in the world.
Deepika Kumari went on to win at several competitions after that. She had downfalls too. But that is the life of every sportsperson. The relentless hustle is part of the job description, and a rather ugly side we often don't witness. In 2014, Deepika was featured by Forbes (India) as one of their '30 under 30'.
In 2017, a biographical documentary about Deepika titled 'Ladies First' was made and even won at the London Independent Film Festival. At a very young, tender age, she has achieved enough to make her country proud. When asked about her aspirations other than archery, Deepika answered:
"I want to start an academy and get coaches who would train future archers. I would like to provide others an easy opportunity to explore the sport. Our country needs to pay more attention to archery. Nobody knows the game well enough and even after we win the medals, nobody makes an effort to know the game or its rules. For people, it is a boring game to watch and people don’t want to watch it. It is important for the country to understand the game. It is not just about shooting arrows, which is a notion people generally have for the game."
Deepika Kumari is truly an inspiration. It goes to show how all you need is a will. Nothing else matters. She came for nothing, had the support of her family, and made something great of herself. Someone who's now the threshold for the sport in the country.