Meghana Reddy Gundlapally is just 20, and yet when the youngster takes the stage she mesmerises sports fans with her flawless flexibility and fitness. Meghana was only 11 when she found her true calling and thus became one of India’s first rhythmic gymnasts. She took up gymnastics after watching Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games. She never imagined that one day she would become the only rhythmic gymnast to represent India at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. Her ambition is to see India in the top spots in the world in rhythmic gymnastics. Trained by her Greek coach Varvara Filiou, Meghana, one day, would like to win medals for her country at the Olympics.
Also a classical dancer, Meghana shares more about her journey in a tête-à-tête with SheThePeople.TV.
How can you describe your childhood and what inspired you to become a Gymnast? Tell us from the beginning.
I have always been quite an active child, I was always involved in some kind of extracurricular activity. Even before starting gymnastics I played a number of different sports and learned Kuchipudi for almost five years. It was at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games that I got the chance to see rhythmic gymnastics live. That was the first time that I saw a live sport and seeing how proud each gymnast was to represent their country at an international stage, it just clicked something in me. As a classical dancer, performing on stage was something I had always enjoyed, but seeing these athletes represent something much bigger than themselves, it inspired me and that was the moment I decided to take up rhythmic gymnastics professionally.
Gymnastics means flexibility and systematic movement. And, you started later than what is considered to be the ideal age for the sport. What were the challenges you overcame before making it big?
To be honest, I don’t believe that I have made it big yet, but that doesn’t mean getting to where I am today was easy. I started my gymnastics career at the age of 11 and a half, which affected my progress. Back when I first started In Hyderabad there was no coach specific to rhythmic gymnastics so I used to watch YouTube videos, and get what little help I could from my seniors, but I soon realized that it was not going to help me to get where I want or achieve what I want. So I had to travel outside India to get trained, and I still do.
You work twice as hard as others and being a trained Kuchipudi dancer kind of helped you. How did the first Gymnastic act feel like?
My first ever gymnastics performance was at the LB stadium, it was for a district championship and there were not many people there. But still the happiness I got from wearing a leotard for the first time and doing my make up, it is something I probably will never forget. I was so excited that I was at a competition that I’m pretty sure I totally forgot that it was a competition.
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Rhythmic Gymnastics is way different from other traditional sports. What inspires your love for it?
I don’t think I can say that there is one aspect of gymnastics that “inspires” my love for it, the good, the bad, the performing, the competing, everything just comes together.
What did you learn from it?
My parents and gymnastics are the two things in my life that made me the woman I am today. The self discipline and being responsible person, that I learned from a young age, and just me being me as a person, in general, I don’t think anyone or anything could have taught me better than gymnastics. And it is not just during the time of my sporting career, these things are going to be with me for the rest of my life.
I might stop playing gymnastics one day but I can never unlearn the values it taught me or leave its legacy behind.
How is the Gymnastic scene in India for women? Why isn’t it popular among women here?
Well rhythmic gymnastics is an all women sport but in the various disciplines of gymnastics, like artistic or aerobics or acrobatics, women are doing just as good as the men, and actually even better I may say. Especially with the support of organisations such as GoSports Foundation, who support artistic and rhythmic gymnastics athletes, namely Dipa Karmakar, Aruna Reddy and I. During the 2016 Rio Olympics, Dipa Karmakar, was the first Indian gymnast to participate and qualify for the finals in vault, other than her there are also other women artistic gymnasts qualifying and winning medals at various world cups. And I definitely wouldn’t say that it is not popular among women in India.
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Tell us about your goals and upcoming tournaments?
I sit with my team which consists of my coach at ASU Udine and GoSports foundation, and we discuss what my goals would be. In general, my goals for every competition is always the same, for me to give my 100% and to get the best and highest scores possible for me. I believe that if I work on that the results will soon follow.
What inspires you every day?
Well, it does get hard to stay inspired every single day, but that small hope that someday all of my hard work could inspire another young girl to take up a sport as beautiful as this, is I guess is what keeps me going.
Your message to young girls who dare to be different and want to go against the societal barriers is?
Don’t care about what anyone has to say, no matter how different or unusual your passion/dream is, put in the hard work and just follow it! If it is something you really love then it shouldn’t matter to you what anyone thinks or says.
Share your strategies and insights before a game. What do you think before the performance?
There is only one “ritual” you can say that I follow before going on to the carpet. I close my eyes, face a wall and visualize the best routine that I can perform, talk myself through each and every step I take in my routine and remember all of the corrections I can.
What are your biggest challenges you face now?
The biggest challenge I have now and will always have is to prove on the carpet that all of the time and money and energy and effort put in is not going to go waste.
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How do you balance life? family, profession?
Well, I don’t have anything to balance, my first and highest priority is always given to gymnastics, and then my family. And lucky for me that my family have been very supportive and encouraging right from day one.
What has been your most touching or amazing moment?
Participating at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games! It took me and everyone around me eight hard years just so I could participate there but it was the most touching moment for everyone when I stepped on the carpet that day.
Since it was extremely difficult for you to find a coach and the facilities available here were not so good, even today. What do you think India lacks in terms of appreciating all kind of sports?
I don’t think India is actually lacking in terms of appreciating sports, especially not in the recent years. There are so many world class athletes being produced from India and that would’ve obviously not been possible without the support and encouragement us athletes get. I mean sure we might not be as sophisticated as other countries but we are most definitely getting there.
One thing that we do lack, but is growing is Sports Science. With the help of GoSports Foundation, I have got access to best sports science experts and have really benefited from this. This is a growing field in Indian and has become an essential element for the elite athlete.
Do you face any struggles for sponsors to continue with your passion?
Like I mentioned earlier rhythmic gymnastics is a fairly new sport in India and not many people have heard about it, and because of that up until recently all of the financial aid I got was from my parents and family friends. And I was very fortunate to be offered support, especially considering the lack of support extended towards my sport as a whole. So I believe that as the sport gets more recognition there will be more sponsors to come forward.
How sports in general has liberated women in the area? Do women now seek to take up Gymnastic professionally?
I wouldn’t say that sports has liberated women, but rather it is the women who decided to follow their passions and free themselves from traditional social norms. And yes definitely, I see a lot of young girls showing a lot more interest in taking up gymnastics professionally.
Your take on women sportspersons and gender discrimination in our country overall.
Gender discrimination is the one thing that I never faced with rhythmic gymnastics so I don’t think I can say anything about that. But one thing I can say is that we work just as hard and produce just as amazing results in all the sports as men.
Feature Image Credit: Meghana Gundlapally