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The first Indian woman gymnast at Olympics 2016, Dipa Karmakar has come a long way. The 24-year-old put the spotlight on a sport that has largely remained underrepresented where Indians are concerned. However, since she underwent a surgery in 2017, Dipa has been away from the thick of things. The gymnast came back full throttle in July 2018 when she became the first Indian gymnast to win a gold medal at a global event, finishing first in the vault event of the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup in Mersin, Turkey.

This daughter of a weightlifting coach has beaten all odds to emerge as the champion she is. SheThePeople.TV chats with her about her book  – Dipa Karmakar: The Small Wonder. Excerpts from the interview:

Your career has been most inspiring. When was the moment that you thought you must share your experiences through a book?

The moment I decided to share my journey was when people at the Rio Olympics began asking where Tripura was and how I could be at the elite stage from such a small town. At that point, I felt that my story needed to be told to more and more people; kids, students who could get inspired and take up not just gymnastics but any sport they liked, even if and especially if they hailed from a small state like mine.

Relooking at your journey through the process of writing it, were there moments that you relived which were inspirational even to you? Could you tell us about them?

I must be honest and admit that I did not write much. Thankfully, I have two very senior journalists, Digvijay Deo and Vimal Mohan, who assisted me in this entire process, wherein they came down to Tripura a couple of times to sit and discuss the project.

While narrating my story to them, we relived my journey to Rio. The one that I vividly recall is when I qualified for the finals and all the elite athletes of our country came up to congratulate me for my feat. The other moment definitely is realising that I was staying in the same village as Usain Bolt and Roger Federer, when I spotted them during dinner. This made me realise how huge, but at the same time how inclusive the Olympics and sport, in general, can be

Of all the trials and tribulations of your journey to become an international level medal-winning gymnast, what are the takeaways you would like young girls reading this book to have?

The takeaway that I would like young girls to have is to never listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do something or you can’t achieve something. If Dipa Karmakar, who comes from a small town of Tripura, can do it, then so can you.

You say in your book that we are a culture that celebrates winners, the entire country was rooting for you when you reached the Olympic vault finals. What was it about your journey that you think touched the millions watching you?

I feel everyone enjoys the story of a girl who came from nowhere and made it to the finals in a sport that no one had heard of in the biggest sporting spectacle. I had no idea that so many people back home were following my Olympic journey as I was not allowed to use my phone. But when Nandi sir told me what was going on back home, it was overwhelming for me because we never thought that we would make it this far.

How do you think we can popularise gymnastics as a sport in India, especially for young girls to take up? What are the factors that make parents hesitate to put their daughters into gymnastics?

The only way a sport can grow in any country is when it is played at the grassroots level. Introducing the sport in school is important and then letting the kids decide whether they want to take up the sport or not. The second level is when the right authorities provide these kids with the right equipment so they can compete at the nationals and then aspire to become an elite gymnast.

To be honest, I am actually seeing the shift of more girls taking interest in learning gymnastics, and the parents are supporting their child. I believe this is very important as the first level of confidence comes only when you are being supported by your own family.

The Produnova was a vault that gained you immense popularity at Rio. Do you see yourself doing it again at Tokyo, especially post your ACL surgery and recovery?

I cannot comment too much on that at the moment. We have been training for our next World Cup and whether or not I will do the Produnova depends on my coach.

Despite having flat feet, you have excelled in a sport like gymnastics. How do you think attitude and mindset triumphs over the body?

I strongly feel that it is your attitude towards your inabilities that brings you down and not your inability itself. It is important for an athlete to realise that an injury is temporary and at no point should it make them believe that their journey is over. The way you deal with the setbacks dictates your journey ahead, so it is always important to have a positive mind frame.

Take us through the process of choosing specific stories for this book, was there anything that you felt that didn’t need to be shared in this book and why?

Digvijay bhaiya and Vimal bhaiya used to come down to Tripura and sit with me and Nandi sir to hear our stories. Over multiple sessions, we discussed various aspects of the book where they used to share drafts of the chapters and I used to go through it and include my changes. The photos that you see in the book are shortlisted by me as they are very personal which visually takes you through my journey. We just wanted the book to be something that inspires everyone and the book was drafted keeping that thought process in mind.

Read More Stories By Ria Das

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