Image Credits: Anushka Pawar
The city of Mumbai positioned themselves as one of the hotbeds when it comes to producing gifted young gymnasts on the country. While I could sit here all day and rattle off names you’ve heard of, perhaps there is one you do not know much about yet – Anushka Pawar.
The 19-year old gymnast, who trains at Prabodhankar Thackeray Krida Sankul (PTKS), may not be making the waves that many of her compatriots are, but rest assured there is still time for her name to reach the same heights as others.
Like most young gymnasts coming through the ranks, Anushka boasts a wonderful blend of ability, move and intelligence. With still much to learn and accomplish, the Mumbai native has a canvas that just needs some final touches.
The pressure on gymnasts isn't limited to nailing the perfect backflip or sticking the perfect dismount. As she points out in the interview, they're under immense stress to maintain perfect appearances, too.
Anuskha also talks about the absurdity of – why are female gymnasts judged by their appearance? Why is the focus is always on female gymnasts’ looks? For any athlete, the focus should be on their expertise and sporting ability, but when it comes to women sportspersons, the picture slightly shifts from competence and veers towards the looks to focus on body-shaming, clothes shaming – ‘You’re lucky because you get to wear short clothes in your sport’, or ‘why do you have to wear such leotards, you really chose this sport for attention,’ sort of comment.
Like other gymnasts, all she wants the people to respect the beauty of the sport, that is gymnastics.
Anuskha, a M.L. Dahanukar College student, who dabbles well in writing as well, was at the crossroads of her life and her career but she felt as if she still had more to give as a gymnast.
She was progressing well until she got operated in 2017, but she never complained about it, rather she’s very grateful to it. This year, 2020 was marked her comeback until the pandemic put halt to her progress.
Anushkha represented India at the World School Games in 2016, Turkey and secured third on Balance Beam at the 2020 Khelo India Youth Games talks about her formative years, her gymnastics heroes, the difficulties she faced in the sport and career goals and more.
Read: Rising from rejection – Mohammed Rafey: “Whatever I am today and what my identity is just because of Gymnastics”
You are very young and have quite a few medals under your belt, tell us about how you got into this, what inspired you as a child to take up professional gymnastics?
I was 4-years-old when I saw my cousin who was way older to me, do a cartwheel. I was very fascinated and therefore attempted that at home a couple of times when my parents weren’t around and ended up hurting my toenail, it came off. I was also enrolled at classical dance classes back then so this injury allowed me to conveniently sit and observe at those classes.
My mom, rather than being annoyed, was curiously looking out for courses which could cater for my interests and luckily the 2004 Olympics aired on the TV back then and she observed that gymnastics really captivated my mind, so she found out about the classes nearby and enrolled me in.
Who were your first gymnastics heroes? What was significant about their achievements or character that you admired?
My first gymnastics hero would definitely be Shawn Jhonson East, I saw her performing at the Olympics and her body was powerful and muscly which was sort of unique in the field of gymnastics, but she owned it and she killed her routines.
In India, not a lot of people know gymnastics and it is a rare sport for people to participate in. Talk a little about the difficulties you faced.
One of the most common difficulties almost everyone faces is when you’re trying to explain your sport and people respond with “oh the same things which we see at the circus right?” It’s disrespectful for both, the gymnasts and the circus artists as well.
Another problem which isn’t as highlighted is, artistic gymnastics has a code of dressing but instead of respecting our attires these responses are quite common: “You’re lucky because you get to wear short clothes in your sport”, or “why do you have to wear such leotards, you really chose this sport for attention.” We gymnasts would be much grateful if people respect the beauty of the sport. These problems are really not talked upon and yet such mentalities need so much of change.
What was the first-ever win you got in any form of gymnastics?
I went out on vacation when I was 5-years-old and when I came back there was a kid’s competition happening and my coach back then, Ms. Swapna Parab told me to perform whatever I could. I got a silver medal in Balance Beam.
Where do you train now and who is your coach now?
I train at Prabhodhankar Thackeray Krida Sankul under Mr. Harish Parab.
Sport on an elite pathway requires dedication and commitment; aside from providing funding and transport for training, how did your parents support you emotionally pre-competition?
I love writing as well and at one point during my schooling years I was chosen for a screenwriting course at a reputed production company, but that meant I had to spend hours away from training. I wasn’t mature enough to choose between my sport and this new opportunity but my dad told me I had the capacity, and I was made to pursue greater things. It gave me a sense of realisation.
My major setback was when I got my wrist operated and an injury is so heartbreaking for every sportsperson out there, I had lost hope and I didn’t think I would ever even be able to comeback in the competition. My mom was sitting beside me on the hospital bed just after my operation and she told me, during my birth as well I had faced a lot of complications, but I fought for my life, she said I was a struggler since birth and I would find my way out in gymnastics as well. And from that day, I decided to never let her hardships fail.
Teenage years are probably one of the most difficult times in our lives; we can image a lot of your time was dedicated to training – how did you ensure a good school-training-social life balance?
It was tough, especially when I faced failure, it felt like I was sacrificing so much, for nothing. But of course, nothing in life is ever a waste.
I could not dedicate a lot of time with my friends, but this made me realise there are two types of people in the world:
The ones who ignore you and move on because you haven’t spent a lot of time together or the real ones who adore you as a friend and support you throughout your struggles. Gymnastics gave me real friends!
Is it important to have a favourite move in gymnastics? What’s yours then?
Gymnastics is a compilation of a lot of moves but my favourite moves are flic to layout step out and a ship jump because they are such graceful skills.
How much did your gymnastics develop over the year and what were the biggest lessons you learned?
I was progressing well until I got operated in 2017, I’ve never complained about it, rather I’m very grateful to it. This year, 2020 was a sort of a comeback year for me until the lockdown.
In the recovery phase, people who I counted on for help and support chose to ignore me and the least expected people showed to help me out.
Whoever called gymnastics an individual sport probably wanted us gymnasts, to take it literal terms as well. Because one thing that I have learnt until now is that no one can help you improve but you yourself. Because the only factor within one’s control is always themselves, and just themselves.
We know that gymnasts are always trying to improve. What are some things you are presently working on?
2020 is almost gone but in this Lockdown, I am working on my flexibility and trying out skills which can be done in the very limited space at home.
Would you like to have compete along with Simone Biles and what would have been your tactics to beat her?
It would be an absolute pleasure to play a tournament along with her, the tactic would be focusing on my performance because that’s how you get the best out of yourself.
To this point, what's been your best moment or favorite moment in gymnastics? What’s the one thing that you are most proud of?
My favourite moment so far is this year when I was supposed to go for a training camp and had just learnt a new skill but my coach could not accompany me during the competition. I trained the skill a lot by myself and did it well during the competition and that moment was relieving and I was really happy.
One thing I’m proud of is the fact that I am still pursuing the sport no matter how many times I’ve been told that I am not good enough, fit enough, ignoring the embarrassments and hate and from my side, I try to be as supportive towards others as possible. And I think everyone should be proud of the fact that they’re still fighting to make a mark.
What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
The most favourite sessions are during summer because there are no tournaments in that season and we can experiment a lot.
The least favourite is monsoon because the apparatus tends to get moist and the training conditions get a little complicated and so does managing the travel from home to training and to college to training to back home during Mumbai rains.
Do you have any snacks that you miss when in training camp and what is your typical daily diet when in camp?
I tend to gain weight easily, my meals include loads of salads and protein like chicken and dal, and that’s very filling as well. Unfortunately, during camps, the cooked items like chicken and dal are drowned in oil so I really have to avoid it and the salads are not a hygienic choice if it’s supposed to be eaten in abundance. There are no snacks and fancy foods during camps so there’s nothing really to miss except for the food back home.
Which gymnast’s journey do you find most inspiring?
I have always looked up to Alexandra Raisman because she has a strong personality and she is very powerful but I don’t personally know her,
I have so many talented teammates from Indian Gymnastics from whom I learn every single day of my life, Swastika Ganguly being one of them because she is not only a very understanding senior but also radiates so much positivity. I also take inspiration from Vandita Raval and Dwija Asher, they guide me, understand me and push me to give my best.
What are your hopes for your Gymnastics career, is there a level you would like to achieve?
I’ll give my best at the sport until I am at it. I’d go wherever my performance takes me to.
If you could switch lives with another athlete from a different sport, who would you want to be?
Joannie Rochette: Figure Skating
From the Gymnast you have performed against, who was the toughest opponent you have faced?
All the gymnasts preceding me! (there are no opponents as such in gymnastics)
What are the top 3 things on your bucket list of things that you would like to do in your lifetime?
Be satisfied with my performance, read a story out to someone who needs to hear it, sleep under the most beautiful sky without bugs biting me.
Do you have any pre-game superstitions?
Yes, my hair has to be stretched out and tight otherwise it doesn’t work for me.
Favorite sports movie?