From a small village in Odisha to the international turf, this 16-year-old is acing the gameRekha Balakrishnan
Sirisha Karami, who hails from Malkangiri, a backward and insurgency-hit district of Odisha, worked hard to make it to the state and national teams.
In a tweet that went viral ahead of the International Day of the Girl Child last year, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar praised 16-year-old Sirisha Karami, saying, “Sirisha’s dream to help her mother, village, state & the nation through sport is inspiring. We’re proud of you! #palyitHERway #DayoftheGirl”
Who is Sirisha Karami? And why is this teenager from Kalimela block in tribal-dominated Malkangiri district, Odisha, making news?
Living under the shadow of insurgency is tough. Being a girl and taking to a sport like volleyball only added to the challenge. But nothing stopped this small-town girl from dreaming, and working hard to be accepted into both the state and national teams and earning her stripes as an international player.
Sirisha’s father passed away when she was very young. Her mother works as a cook at a residential school nearby to support the family.
“My love for volleyball developed when I was in Class VII. I started paying more attention to the sport when I noticed a few senior girls playing volleyball at school. I used to watch them play and that’s when it struck me to be a part of the sport. Once I got enrolled in the Sports Nursery supported by the Essar Foundation, I stepped forward and began learning the game technically. I worked really hard to improve my game, and gradually made my way through various selection processes,” she recalls.
Sirisha admits that it is really difficult to pursue what you love, if you belong to a small district like Malkangiri; and being a girl did add to the challenges.
“Till the time I was playing volleyball in the school premises it was fine, but the actual problems started when I wanted to move out of the village to stay at the residential facilities of the Sports Nursery to focus on the game. The initial challenge was the discrimination I faced for wearing shorts and playing in front of boys. That’s the most common taboo we face here. But my coach always encouraged me to only focus on the game, and that the rest will fall in place. He was always driven by his dream that it would be a moment of pride for him to see any of us make it to the international level,” she says.
Her mother, too, has been a strong pillar of support. “I always wanted to make her feel proud. When the Sports Nursery team and our coach identified me as a potential volleyball talent at our school, I told my mother that I want to pursue volleyball as a career. She, like any other mother, initially had her doubts. I am lucky to have her; she understood my dreams and aspirations and believed in me. She has always stood beside me and supported me at every stage,” adds Sirisha.
At the Sports Nursery, a residential centre, Sirisha received focused training that transformed her into an ace volleyball player.
“I am a proud member of the U-16 Indian national volleyball team, and have played several tournaments both within and outside the state. This gives me great confidence and exposure, which helps me grow as a player. I have been selected to train at the international level under very experienced coaches. That’s a big honour, and I wish to make our district and state proud,” she says.
District Sports Officer and coach Gyanendra has complete faith in Sirisha’s abilities. “Sirisha is an example in herself. She has outshone everyone with mere hard work. There are few facilities available here compared to what others enjoy in bigger cities, but despite all this, she has shown dedication and has won hearts with her performance. She has now reached the national level and when she turns 18, I believe, the Railways or other companies will come forward with job opportunities,” he says.
The Essar Foundation, in its endeavour to support talent in sports, aids the Malkangiri Sports Nursery. “The day we visited her school, we could sense a huge potential in her to make it big as a sportsperson. Sirisha was indeed a hidden talent and it makes us proud to support and nurture such talent. Like her, there are many other girls and boys who have been identified for their raw sporting talent, and who are now being trained by dedicated coaches at the Malkangiri Sports Nursery,” said a spokesperson for the foundation.
The 16-year-old’s innocence and sense of competition is endearing. “I do feel bad when my team loses a game, and I try to reflect on what went wrong with my performance and how I could improve. But failures actually help in improving my game with greater dedication. I know how and why it becomes very important to practice every day,” says this young go-getter.
From a small village in Odisha to the international stage, Sirisha has certainly come far, proving if you work hard to pursue what you love, there’s certainly no looking back.