Stories are a cultural device that has helped civilizations transfer knowledge and key insights through generations. We have access to stories from across the world now with the help of the internet. We can literally track and see someone’s life (what they reveal, anyway) through their social media, and every interview or YouTube video they’ve made. It’s a great way to actively learn about what makes these ultra-athletes kick and what makes them who they are.
More generally, motivation is what makes or breaks an athlete. Even when 7-time Mr. Olympia winner Phil Heath won the title recently, he said motivation was key. He was grateful to every athlete that came before him and he wants to continue the legacy forward.
Here are a few Indian athletes who are the perfect examples of perseverance, the power of motivation, and the desire to carry forward a legacy:
A lot of people know about the Phogat sisters and their stories through the movie Dangal, but what people don’t know a lot about was the amount of work they had to put through in their craft. Both girls had to practice from 3.30 AM to 6.30 AM, go to school, and then another 2 hours of practice afterwards. There was no definition of “slowing-down” or “time-off”. What were some of the things that villagers told Geeta’s parents and sisters?
‘Shame on you for turning girls into wrestlers.’ ‘May insects eat up your insides.’ ‘You are spoiling your girls.’ ‘No one will marry them.’ ‘They will turn wild and bring shame on you.’
Geeta and her family had to fight many battles every single day and beat everyone they could, and still continue to work for 5-6 hours daily.
“Everyone was just waiting for us to put a foot wrong. They thought we’d start seeing boys or do something compromising. They almost wanted us to do something to shame our parents so that they could be proved right,” said Geeta in an interview with The Guardian.
Mithali Raj was aspiring to excel in a completely different arena — Indian classical dancing. The Indian women's team captain created a world record by becoming the very 1st player to reach 6,000 runs in the history of women's ODI cricket. A feat once considered impossible was beaten by the 34-year old because of her hard work, dedication, and sacrifice.
Much like other athletes, she received little support from the infrastructure available to sportsmen, and she turned a lot of things down like social gatherings, stable careers, etc. All the time spent in the pitch and practice finally paid off and Mithali is now a role model for all aspiring cricketers. Her father was the biggest motivator for her initially, and used to criticize her performance during her developing years. As a negative reinforcer, it may have sparked her next role as a genius cricketer and eventually taking Indian cricket to premier levels.
From being acquitted of all cheating charges to becoming the only Indian woman to win a medal in the Paralympic Games, Deepa Malik’s journey has been one of passion, grit, and problems. She won it all at the age of 46, which is amazing! There was very little faith in her –a lot of people gave up and voluntary help disappeared. People thought she was crazy, and it was a very lonely journey. People started to write her off because she was an upper middle-class colonel’s wife and she was above 40 years old.
So how did she deal with all the hate and rejection? Deepa rode the first bike adapted for paraplegics, swam a kilometre against the current in the Yamuna, drove 3,000 km to Leh and back through high-altitude passes, and broke multiple records in swimming and riding. A truly inspiring woman!