Unsung heroes: In Kodagu, a star athlete works to mentor future champions
As sports fans around the world are hooked on the World Athletics Championships which kicked off in the United States, in Bengaluru, former Karnataka track and field athlete Ashwini Nachappa is solely focused on reviving activities from his sports academy in Kodagu after a “difficult two years”.
Kodava by birth, Nachappa’s passion for athletics accelerated when she was just eight years old. While his father worked in Kolkata, Nachappa lived with his mother and sister Pushpa, who is also an athlete, near Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore. Little did Nachappa know that the stadium would be a turning point leading to his achievements in the discipline of athletics.
“My sister and I used to enjoy running on the stadium tracks every morning. The late Mohinder Singh (triple jumper) saw us and bribed us with sweets and wanted to see us more in the field. For each round he offered candy and I ended up taking more candy. Since then there has been no turning back,” said the Olympian, who won her first gold medal at the All Indian Open Nationals in Bengaluru in 1980.
Nachappa began her athletics career as a hurdler and long jumper, before moving into sprints. She participated in two Asian Games, one held in 1986 in South Korea and the other in 1990 in Beijing, China, where she won a silver medal in the 4 × 100 m relay. She also represented India at two world championships, one in 1987 in Rome, and the other in 1991 in Tokyo, as a member of the 4 × 400 m relay. She also won the 200m gold medal at the 1990 National Open Meet in New Delhi ahead of PT Usha, with a time of 24.07 seconds.
After a foray into filmmaking in the 90s, Nachappa established her own institution in 2004, the Karaumbiah Academy for Learning and Sports or KALS (named after her husband Dataha Karumbiah) in Gonikoppal, Kodagu. Later in 2010, Ashwini’s Sports Foundation, a non-profit organization, was established at the same academy to nurture potential Kodagu athletes.
“We realized that Kodagu produced great sports talent, but kids had to go to Mangalore or Bangalore to pursue their dreams. That’s when we decided to mix academics and sports through the foundation and the school to embolden sports culture at the grassroots level in Kodagu,” said Nachappa, who is also associated with Parikrma Humanity Foundation, an NGO that offers education in English to the poorest. slums of Bangalore. In fact, she was also associated with the Special Olympics program for 12 years, providing year-long athletic training to children with special disabilities.
A business that started with 25 students has now grown to 850 students practicing athletics, hockey and air rifle shooting. Some of them have been part of the Indian hockey team in the junior category and have represented the state in national championships in athletics and national championships in shooting. The sports academy consists of a synthetic athletics track and an artificial turf for hockey.
“These two years have been difficult for everyone, financially and emotionally. In our academy, we have restarted sports activities this year with a new set of athletes in three basic sports. Keeping in mind the impact of the pandemic on students, we have also started addressing the physical and emotional challenges of children through small initiatives,” said Nachappa, adding that fundraising for the academy remains a challenge.
“Fundraising has been quite a challenge over the years for sports academies. However, we use the income generated by KALS to develop the equipment of our academy. We’ve also received grants from national and state sports funds,” said Nachappa, who believes women’s participation in sports has increased over the years.
“During my early days as an athlete, I never thought gender would be a barrier to achieving your dreams. It’s all about talent and it’s important to keep doing what you’re doing. For me, life has been a learning experience, even now. With the pandemic having brought the sport to a complete halt for the past two years, we will restart training processes at our academies and continue to produce more youngsters. athletes for the country,” said winner Arjuna.