Image Credits: Fisto
An old maxim says that a professional is an amateur who didn’t quit. There is an aspect to this sentiment, though, that makes 18-year-old gymnast Richa Chordia one of the living embodiment of hard work and a never give up attitude.
Hailing from a humble background, Richa grew up molding her game at Maharashtra Mandal center. She was told by doctors that she is flat-footed, will face many injuries and would not make it as a professional gymnast. A few years down the line, the world of normal kid from non-sports backdrop has certainly been turned upside down.
There was no rapid breakthrough as a young talent, symbolic of her style as a gymnast, but rather a series of steps on the ladder towards success.
Joining Alacrity academy was a crucial step for Richa’s promising career. From there onwards,her career took a positive stride, as she captained Indian team at the World School Games,Trabzon, Turkey in 2016.
So far in her nascent career, the 18-year-old has won a total of 145 medals (65 gold, 41 silver and 39 bronze) at district,state and national and there are likely more coming.
Her achievement including 5 gold and 1 bronze medals and national champion at 61st National school games, Hyderabad 2015. She won 3 gold and 2 silver at the 62nd National school games, Haryana 2016, followed up by 2 gold and 2 silver medals at the 63rd National school games, West Bengal 2017.
Richa full repertoire was regularly on display at the Khelo India Games. A mesmeric mover, her tremendously quick feet enabled her towin a gold medal and stood all round 3rd at the 2nd Khelo India Youth Games, Pune, 2019 and 3 bronze medals and stood all round 3rd at the 3rd Khelo India Youth Games,Assam, 2020.
She has come a long way and has a long journey yet to go. Though now she’s established herself as one of the most talented young gymnasts in the country, she still faces setback and disappointment and it hasn’t gone away, but she will deal with whatever life throws at her in her usual manner: Work hard. Don’t quit.
Richa has a firm belief in what she is capable of and with sheer motivation, and hard work, she constantly strives to achieve more.
An old maxim says that a professional is an amateur who didn’t quit. By that definition, Richa keep striving to the best version of herself and to be the consummate professional.
One fact is for certain: Richa’s steady rise does not end here, it is only the start of a burgeoning career that is set to make her one of India’s best rhythmic gymnast in the future.
Currently pursuing B.com from Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce, Pune, Richa Chordia takes us through the path travelled thus far, the hardships she faced, her mother’s sacrifice and coaches influence and shares her insights on the journey ahead.
First of all, how did it all start? Take us through your path to gymnastics.
I started rhythmic gymnastics in the year 2011 when I was 10 years old. At that time rhythmic gymnastics was not such a known sport. My journey in rhythmic gymnastics began because of my mom. When I was young,I was quite flexible and my mom noticed that and she thought to put me into sports.One of our relatives contacted my mom that Maharashtra Mandal will be a good center for sports. So that's how my journey began.
We went to Maharashtra Mandal which was 13km far from where we lived and over there my mom met Mrs. Savita Marathe. She saw my flexibility and suggested to take rhythmic gymnastics as a sport. We were not at all aware of this sport but my mom just put me into it for exercising daily and out of curiosityof a new sport. I come from a non-sports background.
In the beginning, my family didn't support me in this but my mom never gave up. She used to travel 13kms everyday and would never let me miss my practice even a single day. In this way, I started my career in rhythmic gymnastics.
Mrs. Savita Marathe was my first coach. Later on, as I started achieving my family started supporting me and nowthey fully support me.
In 2016, I started to train under Miss Madhura Tambe at Alacrity Sports School,my current coach. I had to face many difficulties throughout my journey.
One of my biggest difficulty was that I'm flat-footed. The beginning of my journey started with opposition. Doctors said gymnastics will not be a good sport for me and I will face many injuries and would not exceed in this sport as I am flat foot. But just because of that I didn't stop and now I'm an international player. My parents and my coaches were my strongest pillars. I've come across a couple of injuries but I never gave up and the more I fell the strongerI grew.
At what point did it sink in that you could be really good at gymnastics?
At the beginning, I had not much interest in gymnastics I would just practice because my mom pushed me to. But later on, when I came under the guidance of Miss Madhura Tambe, who currently is my coach, my interest in gymnastics started to grow stronger and stronger and now it has become an inseparable part of my life. She bought the best out of me showed me the beauty of this sport. I started to believe in myself and started to set high targets. That was the period where it sank in me that I could be really good at gymnastics.
Who’s is favourite gymnast and why?
My favourite gymnast is Linoy Ashram from Israel. I admire her because of her difficulty level and she is a strong fighter. One thing I have learnt from her is that no matter what never give up and whoever tries to pull you down grow up even more stronger. Always keep improving and perform like a fighter.
What gymnast did you want to model yourself after when you were growing up?
Magarita Mamun from Russia, she's the all-round champion of Rio Olympic Games 2016, she is my ideal role model.
There are many days when you want to just give up and throw in the grips. How did you fight through those days?
There were many times when I felt to just give up. Firstly, it had been in the year 2015. I was practicing gymnastics for 3.5 years and I was only a state medalist and everytime I failed to get selected for the national championships. That time, I was in 9th and my parents were also worried about me that I'm not progressing and this would affect my academics as next year I would be in 10th – the turning point of life.
That was the period where I felt that how much ever hard work I'm doing, I'm not getting my results and my academics also getting affected. That time I felt like I want to stop gymnastics. State competitions were approaching and I was confused whether to play or not as I was frustrated. But my coach(Madhura Tambe) no matter what she never gave up on me. The moment I shared my thoughts with my coach she only said one thing to me – perform in this competition as your last one and then we will see what happens. Her words triggered me so much that during the state competitions I performed wholeheartedly. I stood all-round first and became the state champion with 4 gold and 2 silver medals and was selected for the national competitions as the team captain. After the competition,I just ran towards my coach and hugged her tightly.My coach was my strongest pillar and she taught me to never give up and never stop trying. She made me realize that it’s only the hardwork, patience and acceptance that will help to fight in the long run.
Secondly, when I felt to just give up was during the Asian Championship Trails 2019. Two days prior to the competition during practice, I injured my ankle. I had grade 3 complete ligament tear. I was totally devasted as I was not even able to walk properly. Doctors had said that playing competition in such a situation would be very risky and suggested me to withdraw from the competition. But risking everything I went for the competitions and competed with a broken ankle. I stood 6th and missed the chance to be a part of the Indian team. For me, that was a rough patch and I just closed my eyes and remembered the words my coach had said. Her words – finding positivity in every negative situation and improving always trigger and enlighten me in my bad times or at times when I feel to just give up.
In this way,I fought through those days. My coaches were my backbone. It's all just in the mind. You just need to have a strong mind and not let the mind control you. You must control your mind. And when you feel like quitting just remember why you started.
Competing at such a young age, how did you juggle studies with sport?
I was an average student and my grades were also average before I joined gymnastics. However, when I started doing gymnastics my concentration level and grasping capacity increased tremendously and its effect reflected on my academics. Steadily my grades started to increase and I started becoming more responsible. I was able to manage both gymnastics and academics. I gave my best in both the fields. I would say that gymnastics was the reason that made my academics stronger. If you want to achieve something you can manage everything.
In 10th standard, the most stressful and important year for all the students and parents, where students study right from the beginning of the year and study and study. Well, my 10th standard year was quite fun, I didn't have time to study at all, right at the beginning of the academic year I got selected for my first international competition the World School Games, so my half-year just went without studying because of all the training camp and tournaments. Later on, I skipped my prelims because of the national championship. During that phase, I was quite nervous as l was lacking behind in academics and I could see all my peers studying very hard. But I focused on my national championship and won 2 gold and 3 silver medals. Board exams were approaching and my tension was increasing becauseI was lacking behind. Then one-full month I studied whole-heartedly and appeared for the board examination and secured 96% in 10th SSC. I was overwhelmed and there is no such thing that if a person is good at sports, he/she is weak in academics.
The same situation occurred during the 12th board examination, I missed my prelims due to Khelo India Youth Games in which I won a gold medal. Later on, just a week before the board examinations I had participated in the International Tournament Indian Cup which was held in Hyderabad and I landed Pune just 2 days prior to board examination. So basically, during my 12th standard, I had no time to study but yet I utilized my time to its maximum. I used to carry books for competitions for studying. I secured 83.9% in 12th HSC. Currently, I'm pursuing B.com. So, in this way,I have managed both my studies and gymnastics. I never sacrificed one for another.
My parents,coaches and my peers were always there for me. You just have to stay focused and determined and never that it's not possible. Many people believe that due to sports academics can go down and hence they drop sports. I would say that there's no such thing as such. U just have to stay focused and have strong will power and give your 100% devotion for what u want. And on the of all, you must have the passion of what you are doing. If you're passionate u can achieve wonders and no one will be able to stop you.
What was your first medal in any form of gymnastics?
It was in the year 2013 where for the first time I was selected for Rhythmic Gymnastics State Championship held at Nanded. Over there, I won my first state silver medal in the rope event and from there onwards my medal achievements started to pile up.
Where do you train now and who is your coach now?
I train at Alacrity Sports School, Pune and my coaches are Miss.MadhuraTambeand Mrs. Kalyani Tambe Deo.
What are your most memorable moments from your events? Any ones that stand out that you remember like they were yesterday?
There are a couple of events which are my most memorable. Firstly, it was in the year 2015 where I became the national champion in the junior age group and won 5 gold and 1 silver medals. That was my first national competition held at Hyderabad and I was more than happy.
Inever expected that I would be the national champion at my first national championship. And then I was selected in the Indian team for the World School Games, Turkey. I had a wonderful experience and most memorable memories. These events stand out to be that they were yesterday.
If you could dance with any celebrity, who would that be and why?
If I could dance with any celebrity, I would dance with Ian Joseph Somerhalder. It's because I admire his looks and personality.
Many say that gymnastics is not just a sport, but an art form that's what requires athletic ability and flexibility. what do you say about that?
Gymnastics is the mother of all sports. Rhythmic gymnastics is a creative sport that requires flexibility, strength, and coordination. It is a sport where a gymnast must perform with ease and must depict a character. It's not just a sport but art to perform within a time limit of 90 seconds and we get only one chance. It is an art to express through our routines, to depict a character and to master with apparatus. Rhythmic gymnastics is arguably the most beautiful sport in the world.
But it’s also one of the most unknown and under-appreciated, stuck in the shadow of its older and more popular cousin, artistic gymnastics. Rhythmic Gymnastics is a graceful and well rhythmic form of gymnastics. A rhythmic gymnast has to leap,turn,control and dance all while manipulating and tossing different apparatuses, and all to the beat of the music. It isn’t easy, but rhythmic gymnasts have to make it look effortless. And that all starts with hours and hours of training and practice. This is the beauty of the sport.
On top of being strong, a rhythmic gymnast must be incredibly flexible. Feet must curve and point, legs must be hyper-extended, backs must contort so much that they fold in half – at least that’s the ideal. It is the gymnasts’ delicacy and grace that’s deceiving. Little do people know that the most delicate and graceful of these athletes are often the strongest.
Rhythmic gymnasts work for hours and hours and they work hard. In the case of rhythmic gymnastics, the saying “beauty hurts” could never be truer. When it comes to competition, rhythmic gymnasts get one chance to prove themselves.
One chance to demonstrate all that practice and work under the unwavering gaze of the judges, in a routine that lasts just one minute and 30 seconds. No one stops the music If the gymnast messes up. She has to go out there and bravely stand up to the pressure. Though she is covered in rhinestones, inside she may be full of doubts and fears. But she has to swallow them and stay composed. When the music begins, she either flies, the apparatus becoming one with her body, or she falls, letting her fears get the best of her. There are no second chances. The rhythmic gymnast either owns the floor or lets it own her. Emotion is a central feature of rhythmic gymnastics. For me, rhythmic gymnastics is more than just a sport.
We know that gymnasts are always trying to improve. What are some things you are presently working on?
Hardwork and patience are the key for rhythmic gymnastics. Gymnasts must always keep improving and as gymnastics life span is short, they must use the time to its maximum. Learning in gymnastics never stops. It goes on and on and there's no limit. Presentlyduring this lockdown, I'm working on my body elements and strength. Practice never stops no matter what. I'm improving my execution and I'm trying out new and different apparatus difficulty.
What else do you do? Is there something else that you do that you like to perfect outside of Gymnastics?
Other than gymnastics, I like to do sketching and anything related to art. I also love baking cakes and trying new recipes.
What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
I love training for long hours and I always wish to do more and more. At times my coaches tell me to stop but I never want to stop. But there are some sessions which l relish the most and some least favourite. Apparatus difficulty and doing routines are the sessions which I love the most. I also enjoy doing apparatus handling.Stretching sessions are my least favourite as we have to sit in a split position for 10 minutes.
What are your future plans as far as gymnastics goes? Do you hope to continue training through your school/college years and beyond?
I want to rise the Indian flag on international platforms and win a medal for the country. Give my best in every competition and to perform better than yesterday is what I focus on. To participate in the Olympic Games and represent India is my goal. Yes,I would definitely continue training through my college years and beyond.
Rhythmic gymnastics is an inseparable part of my life and I can't think of a day where I'm not doing gymnastics. Rhythmic gymnastics has bought colours in my life and has taught me that nothing is impossible. You just need to have patience and acceptance.
I admire all the gymnasts as everyone are different in their own ways and have their own speciality. I always try to adapt and apply the good from the others.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
I'm a food lover so l love all kinds of food
Your favourite pair of gymnastics shoe ever and what do you wear now?
My favourite pair of gymnastics shoe is Chacott brand and currently, I wear Dvillena brand shoe pair.
From the Gymnast you have performed against, who was the toughest opponent you have faced?
I would say that my only opponent is myself. I compete against myself and improve through my mistakes. I try breaking my own records.
If you could switch lives with another athlete from a different sport, who would you want to be?
P.V Sindhu, Badminton