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Hailing from Mumbai, Riya Sawant is the latest jewel to come out of EuroSchool Airoli and is one of the most exciting prospects in Indian gymnastics right now.
Still only 14, Riya Sawant is a self-confessed Simone Biles fan, has already chalked up a sizable number of accolades under her belt. Now she looks poised to step up to the next level.
Among many of Riya’s amazing achievements including securing first place in the floor exercise and first in balancing beam and also stood as No.1 overall in district’s zonal which was held at Thane, Mumbai; a second-plaace finish in floor exercise, table vault and balancing beam and stood 5th overall in a state meet which was held at Wadala.
Riya, currently studying at SBOA Public School, Nerul, Navi Mumbai, finished 7th overall in school states which was held at Aurangabad and got selected for school nationals, SGFI. And she was part of the Maharashtra team that secured 3rd overall, team medal, bronze, which was held at Agra.
There is no doubt that the young gymnast is destined for great things in the future considering her sheer potential. It will be interesting to see how she develops over the next few years, as you always want to see talent flourish.
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As a young gymnast, who were some of the people that you looked up to for guidance? Who were the people you would speak with to get better?
Gymnastics this sport was unknown to me as I never knew it before but when I joined classes which were held in my school itself then I got to know what this sport is all about. I probably used to see the videos of some talented gymnast and for much better guidance I used to follow Vandita Rawal, who is an international gymnast and even Dipa Karmakar, who is an Olympic Gymnast. I always used to have talks with my coach Mihir Khedkar and sometimes even with my mom, dad and sister to get much better in this field and also to achieve more information about this sport.
You have made pretty rapid progress, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing. What were the hardships you overcome?
Every sportsperson in his or her career always has to face some difficult situations or maybe life-threatening injuries. In gymnastics, I have completed 8 years and surely, I will love to continue it further. This was my first try for school nationals as I have never played before. Many times, I have faced a lot of tight corner in my sport. As I used to travel daily through train from Nerul to Airoli for practice in Euro school.
Everyone knows that there are many problems while travelling through the train. Sometimes I would not get a seat but I would manage and the crowds, often makes you feel hurt. Even the Panvel train in the evening was too risky to travel as there is a lack of Nerul train in Airoli and Thane too.
One of the incidents is my ankle injury, which was very dangerous as I was travelling through Panvel train and there was a lot of crowds, Nerul station came and as you aware of the routine that trains mainly used to stop for 10 minutes on the platform but as soon as I stepped out of the train my ankle got stuck between the platform and the train but nothing big happened as my mother got me out of It. My ankle was almost injured for a month which even resulted in missing out a lot of practice sessions as in that times I was doing very well. I was also not able to play many competitions due to it. There were a lot of anxieties in my mind at that time. But still, I didn’t give up and just after when I was able to walk, I went to my gymnastics class again and then I used to look at my friends and how they used to practice. My coach and my parents and my sister supported me a lot in those hard times and then I started regular warm-up and exercises. Then eventually after a month, I got back to my practice but I was still afraid of doing some elements but my gymnastics friends and my coach never missed a chance to appreciate me, support me.
What did you learn from it? What keeps you going?
These injuries and some more hardships taught me a very common thing, that is never to give. This thought is easy to say but that difficult to implement it in real life. It also made me to live in present instead of thinking about my past as I can’t change my incidence of injury and even stopped predicting future which was affecting me and my mind the most.
My passion towards my sport made me that strong to again continue my sport. ‘problems’ this thing everyone face in their life but it is depends upon us how to deal with it. Most of the problems were out of the box where I thought that I should not do this sport or just give up on it but my love for gymnastics is grew much stronger than ever. I always excepted my situation and faced them but I never made my problems let go which I think is the most important thing I have ever learned.
Sport on an elite pathway requires dedication and commitment; aside from providing funding and transport for training, how did you your parents support you emotionally pre-competition?
My mom, Jayashree Sandeep Sawant, is the best supporter in my Gymnastics as she used to daily come with me to drop and even she used to sit for hours and never made me missed my classes. She is just like my better half. My mom before the competition or may it may be after the competition is always tensed but still, she makes me feel so confident about my competitions and I always try to give my best. Her efforts and her tremendous support has been unforgettable. My father Sandeep Balaram Sawant and my sister Aarya Sandeep Sawant always boost me up before my competitions.
In your professional career, which has been 2 standout moments that have made you feel on top of the world?
There are many standout moments but the two most stunning moments were when I was selected for schools nationals and played there for the very first time. It made me fell on top of the world. Every sports player has a dream to meet their favourite player.
It was one more time when I felt on the top of the world when I met Dipa Karmakar and practised with her at Kalyan. A most down to earth and the loving person I have ever seen. Thank you for always inspiring me.
What was the first-ever win you got in any form of Gymnastics?
My coach once took me to Panvel for one of the competitions where I performed only floor exercise and balancing beam. It was my first competition ever in the field of gymnastics and I also won a bronze medal in the floor exercise. This was my first achievement in gymnastics which will be always unforgettable.
How do you perfect your favourite moves?
Whenever I am doing any new element or maybe my favourite apparatus or I always first follow the instructions given by my coach and then I look after my process and then my performance and then I usually end up with a good outcome. I even refer some videos of whatever element I am doing. I carefully listen to the tips given by my coach and then implement it. I practice that same element many times till I can do it perfectly because practice makes a man perfect.
What goes through your mind while performing?
It’s obvious that every player is tensed before his or her performance, similarly, I am. While doing my sets I always think about my process so that whatever I think I can do the same. But I need to think positive all the time during my competition.
Whenever I think something negative, I will make a fall then its most of the times I do the same. So, it’s tremendously important for me to always think positively so that I give my best but I also try not to think or focus on my results or about the medal.
You are a member of any club, if yes, can you tell what makes your club so special?
I don’t practice in any club but I practice in EuroSchool Airoli. My class is very special to me. My class always gives and spreads lots of positive vibes as always. I am blessed to have such supporting coaches like Mihir sir, Vinayak sir, Shubhangi mam, Santosh sir, Yogesh sir, Rajan sir and most loving Amruta Tai, who’s our psychologist.
My all coaches and friends always support me, encourage me, love me, help me and always consider me as their school student even though I am not. All the parents of Euro are very caring and loving too because in many competitions which are out of towns where I go alone at those times all the parents really care for me and even help me. They never make me feel alone and always make me feel happy and exciting. My gymnastics class is and always will be special because I never thought of having such amazing people in my life. They are always unforgettable for me.
How would you describe your gymnastics style and which Gymnast you would compare it?
My most favourite apparatus is balancing beam and we need a lot of confidence, execution and grace while doing it so I make myself that graceful and make me look confident while doing. So due to that my set looks more attractive and energetic. In all, I try to make myself confident and graceful. Every gymnast in his or her place is the best player and I always compare me with myself and never with others because everyone in their place has a different talent which every player should except it. As our all five fingers are not same similarly all players are not the same. So, I think I am no one to compare myself with anyone else.
Great! Let’s go back to when it all begun….Tell us about how you started with gymnastics.
I was watching add on television and one boy was doing a cartwheel but I didn’t know the name of the element I came to know when I started doing gymnastics. So, I thought this is something different so I also started to try and just a week passed I was able to do the same as he did.
Then after summer vacations, our school started and that time I was in the first standard we had a subject called gymnastics. But I didn’t know anything about gymnastics then our gymnastics sir showed us the video of cartwheel and that time I came to know that this element is called as cartwheel. So, I told my sir I know this and then I did that element and he was impressed with it. He asked whether I go to any classes? I said no, I did this on my own and then he took my dad’s number and told me to start this sport. Then I started and eventually I completed 8 years now.
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We know that gymnast are always trying to improve. What are some things you are presently working on?
Now it’s being a lockdown everywhere so I can’t practice in class so there are online sessions conducted by my coach. Till now I am focusing on strength, immunity and most importantly on my diet and even improving my concentration. Due to lockdown, I am missing a lot of practice but I do imagery of my practice and I feel like I am doing all the apparatus and elements and it helps me a lot to stay cool and calm.
What’s the toughest aspect of being a gymnast and what do you enjoy the most about it?
The toughest aspect is to stay strong mentally than that of physically and most importantly to be punctual and disciplined too. Gymnastics makes me perfect almost in all things and also makes me confident and firm about all my decisions and these things I really enjoy and even experience them daily.
If you could dance with any celebrity, who would that be and why?
I don’t have any attractions for celebrities but I will surely like to dance with Simone Biles. It’s my dream to meet her, so I will enjoy and love to meet her and to dance with her.
What is the best thing that gymnastics has given you?
Firstly, it has given me identity, made me strike out my passion and even made me realised to be punctual and taught me the importance of time. It has given me much more confidence than before. I think every sport always gives something special quality to the player as I have recognized it.
What are the hopes for your gymnastics career, is there a level you would like to achieve?
Every players hope or maybe goal is to at least once play in Asian games or maybe Olympics because dreams never lie so what my hopes are and I will surely like to achieve these levels in gymnastics.
What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
My favourite sessions are when I play with my gym friends, coaches and even parents too. My least favourite sessions are when sir takes a lot of conditioning.
Do you have any pre-game superstitions?
No, because I believe in myself.
If you could switch lives with another athlete from a different sport, who would you want to be?
I would not switch lives with anyone because I love what I am having and the way I am.
From the gymnast, you have performed against who was the toughest opponent you have faced?
In the age group I play almost all the players competing with me are all my toughest competitors ever and I will surely try to do like them.