Image Credits: @Vaidehi
Being in the sport of gymnastics takes a great deal of dedication, hard work, and perseverance. Young gymnasts first experience perseverance through training their bodies and minds to do new things it’s never done before.
The hours in the gym become longer, the skills are harder to master and their bodies begin to experience pain. Their love for the sport has to outweigh their fear and discomfort.
Vaidehi Abhay Dewoolkar from Mumbai looks to be an excellent and exciting prospect for both state and country. One can only sit back and hope she materialises into something substantial.
It has been a whirlwind journey for Vaidehi as she has gone from dabbling in two sports and studies to one of India’s next young hope to a key figure in the senior side, however, this looks to be only a small chapter in the story of Vaidehi.
So far in her nascent career, the Vaidehi Dewoolkar has played 7 School Nationals (3 times all-round champion), 2 Senior Nationals and was a part of the Indian team at the World School Games in 2016 at Turkey, Trabzon.
Eye-catching performances during the second edition of Khelo India Youth Games, Pune earned her 1 gold in Uneven bars and 1 bronze in the all-round championship and 1 silver in uneven bars, 1 bronze in All round championship, 1 bronze in Table Vault in the following year in Guwahati.
Vaidehi celebrated her 19th birthday on August 16th in an offbeat manner amid Covid-19 lockdown and has enough time to make her way up in a steadier fashion.
How did Gymnast happen? Did you play any other sports growing up? And how would you define your journey till now?
As a kid, I was too fragile. My dad is really fond of sports. My dad thought of putting me into some kind of sport which will keep me healthy and physically fit as well. Andheri Sports complex is near to my house and there were several sports. Initially, I started with athletics. I continued for a few months, later it was clashing with my school timings so I had to discontinue. Later, I started accompanying him for swimming every morning. After a few days, he enrolled me for gymnastics when I was 5.
After a couple of years, I started competing in swimming and gymnastics as well. Training for 2 sports at a time and managing studies was getting difficult so had to choose one sport. So that's how Gymnastics happened.
Talking about the journey, as I look back it is indeed a dream run so far. There were few hiccups also. Gymnastics has been a priority in my life for a long time. It has become a part of me/my family. The gym is kind of a second home for me. It’s the place where I learned many physical/mental skills and still learning. I learned to stay cool, calm and keep my composure at the decisive moment. But most of all I learned to be resilient and persistent. There's a long way to go.
When did gymnastics become important to you?
Initially, I used to go to the gym just for fun and enjoyment. To jump on the trampoline, meet my friends, do swings on Uneven bars and play games. Eventually, the goals changed after I started competing. I played my first national competition when I was 11. From that point, Gymnastics became more important to me.
I scrambled to learn new skills to create my routines. I used to be desperate to get a rip. Although the training was tiring, I used to look forward to train with the same enthusiasm the other day. The short- term goals kept me going.
There are many days when you want to just give up and throw in the grips. How did you fight through those days?
Maintaining a strong focus on your personal goals and keeping yourself motivated all the time is very challenging. It becomes a routine. Some days the training gets monotonous and boring. However, it’s not that easy to escape the practice. On such days I prefer going for a run, doing some basic drills in the gym, go to the multi-gym for weight training or swimming. Also, watch some kind of inspirational movies which gets your motivation back to a certain extent and it reminds you why are you doing something. By giving some time to reminisce and recall the purpose of our hardships, we get a renewed sense of motivation to reach our goals. Occasionally reading sport-related literature helps as well.
Which gymnasts you admire at the start, both at the local and the international scene?
I grew up admiring our national gymnasts like Vandita Rawal and Dwija Asher. These were a source of motivation for me in the growing years.
International Gymnasts with the likes of Mckayla Maroney, Shawn Johnson, and Nastia Liukin. Seeing how driven and passionate they are in reaching their goals gives you a huge boost of motivation.
Where do you train now and who is your coach now?
I train at Andheri Sports Complex. My Coaches are Mr. Sanjog Dhole, Mr. Suhas Lohar and Ms. Kavita Kanojia. It is my privilege that I got excellent coaches.
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?
My parents have been supportive since day one. There is no pressure from my parents’ side before any competitions. They try to motivate and make the environment light and comfortable. Before any competition, my dad always says, "enjoy this phase, be strong and calm and don’t think about the results. Go for the kill." These are little things which motivate and helps to increase confidence.
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?
Being a gymnast, we have to manage the three-ring juggling of gymnastics, studies and our social life. Training twice a day, 5 days a week, doesn't leave a lot of time for a social life as other teens. Our social life is restricted to weekends or when we have a day off from training. I don't regret it, because I know my priorities well at the moment. People around me also know the answer to the question, "Are you coming?" is most of the times, "No, I have my training!". I am glad that my friends and family are supportive throughout. Thousands of gymnasts dedicate a good portion of their lives to this lovely form of sanity.
How would you describe your gymnastics style, and which gymnast would you compare it to?
My execution in skills is my plus point, I feel which gives me a little edge over others. Besides, every gymnast has his/her unique style which is inspiring. Every gymnast is unique in its own way. Learning from everyone around me – from my teammates to my competitors to the random person I bump into – is something I find increasingly valuable.
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?
I agree. Most of which you see of gymnastics is an illusion created by hard work, pain, passion, love and commitment of this beautiful sport. All those flips, inversions and splits don't just come handed to you. We need to work for it. It is a sport where young athletes can balance wondrously on a four-inch-wide beam. Every little thing you do in gymnastics takes a massive amount of strength and flexibility. "I look definitely strong, compared to normal girls. I am proud of it, I guess because it's the hard work and it doesn't just come overnight".
Throughout your gymnastics career, what do you think was the hardest hurdle to get over? Where did you have to really push yourself and why?
I realised, being better than the previous competition was more important and self-satisfying. It’s easy to fall victim on setting aside your goals for more exciting but less rewarding activities. There comes a point where you feel you're stuck or your performance is stagnant. That's the point where you need to push yourself harder to continue and to see how far you've come.
Besides injuries also sometimes keeps you away from the game. And after recovering from the injuries, come back into the game also tests one's character.
The time when I initially started competing in seniors was a difficult phase. Competing with the best athlete's in India like Dipa Karmakar, Aruna Reddy, Swatika Ganguly was challenging. I used to be nervous and anxious to compete with them.
How supportive is your school/college in helping you in terms of Gymnastics?
My college (M.L. Dahanukar College of Commerce) has been very supportive and encouraging. At times, my competitions/training camps used to get clash with the exams. But my college always stood behind me. I got all support from professors and classmates from college.
What is the best that Gymnastics has given you?
Gymnastics taught me so much more than how to flip around on a 4- inch piece of wood, or swing from one bar to another. Gymnasts are very strong physically, but in the end, Gymnastics makes your stronger mentally. Gymnastics taught me qualities that I'll carry for the rest of my life. I learned what hard work and determination truly are – how to be brave and confident in who I am, and what I can do, and how to work well on a team. It taught me about poise and passion and holding your composure even if you just fell off a beam in the middle of a routine and fight through our fears and deal with it.
There are so many things gymnastics has given and at times some are more compelling than others. There are friendships you make along the way. These friends are for life because I've spent so much time with them during these years. There are like a family. It taught how you might have to work a litter harder at the things that didn't come easy to you but at the end of the day, it only made you better. Sprain an ankle two days before a competition? You're back out there on Saturday in your Leotard. Gymnasts live by the idea that as long as you ice it, you're all good.
What else do you do? Is there something else that you do that you like to perfect outside of Gymnastics?
I love to do things related to art in my free time. I would love to explore more in this field. I like to play guitar and have started learning, and would love to be perfect in it.
What goes through your mind during a performance?
Giving my best in each competition and trying to be better than the earlier competition. The feeling when you put your best possible effort out there, it's the greatest feeling. Even if you didn't win, the feeling of satisfaction, the commitment and all the efforts of the training sessions matters the most.
In your professional career, which has been 2 standout moments that have made you feel on top of the world?
Well, to be frank, I have not yet achieved the landmarks/dreams for which I am practicing, so that I would feel myself at the top of the world.
What are your hopes for your Gymnastics career, is there a level you would like to achieve?
Achieving my short-term goals and going step by step and try to give my best in each and every competition and becoming better day by day.
What’s your guilty food pleasure? Waffles and Ice cream.