#IAmStubborn: Dipa Karmakar And Her Inspiring Produnova Journey

One wrong move and she could have even lost her life. But, that didn’t stop her from ‘vault’ing to glory in the world of gymnastics, where she has shattered many records and won many hearts.

By Siddiqha Naseem  • 10 min read

#IAmStubborn: Dipa Karmakar And Her Inspiring Produnova Journey

This Women’s Day, we at ParentCircle, present inspiring stories of the women of today for the women of tomorrow! Read, be inspired and share these incredible stories with your daughters. Let your little girls look up to these real-life role models as they grow up to become strong women of tomorrow.

This #IAmWoman story relates to #IAmStubborn

Who better to fit the bill here than the gymnast who made the world stand up and take notice with some death-defying stunts? We’re talking about the amazing story of India’s very own 'Nadia Comaneci'.

Meet Dipa Karmakar, India’s very own gift to the world of gymnastics. From being rejected for her flat feet when she was all of seven to acing the dangerous ‘vault of death’ stunt – Dipa’s story is one of grit, passion and stubbornness. As part of our #IAmWoman series, we talk to the ace gymnast on what makes Dipa, #IAmStubborn. In this exclusive conversation, Dipa talks about how stubbornness, grit and anger all contributed to her successfully breaking all the barriers including the dangerous Produnova. 

Excerpts from an engaging chat:

You were very young when you were told you ‘cannot’ do gymnastics ever. How did you take it?

I was very young when the sports authority of India rejected me because of my flat foot. After a lot of struggle, we (parents and coach) chose this game. Being rejected like that made me feel bad. I never felt like giving up though. Not now, not ever. What kept me going was my coach Nandi sir and his words. He always told me, “Beta (child), you have it in you. You can do this.” Personally, I wanted to show the world that we women are in no way less capable than men.

Your challenges in your young days had to do with your flat-foot disorder…

Not many people are aware of this disorder. In fact, I didn’t know I was flat-footed until my coach pointed it out to me. But on the bright side, there are exercises and equipment that can help you get the curves on your feet. A bunch of YouTube tutorials and consistent hard work helped me achieve this.

It is said you trained for 15 years constantly to bring the curves on your foot. What was that journey like?

I belong to a state where nobody knew about gymnastics. They were terming a world-level sport as ‘circus’. We cannot blame them as that’s how much they were exposed to. I wanted to reach the Olympics and win medals so that the country can start recognizing and celebrating this sport. So, it was definitely a tough fight to put up with. I decided to give it my best for 15 years until I gained the right shape in my foot.

We read somewhere that you had a fear of falling. Is that true?

When I say ‘falling’ I didn't mean about falling and getting injured. I would define that as ‘failing in my own eyes’. When I look at myself in the mirror I don't want to feel like a failure or like I’ve let myself down.

#IAmStubborn: Dipa Karmakar And Her Inspiring Produnova Journey

Did that make your parents’ role and involvement all the more important? 

I have a family background in the field of sports. My dad is a weightlifting coach. So, I am lucky because I did not have to go through the struggle of convincing my parents for what I wanted to do. They supported me in whatever path I chose for myself.

So, what makes Dipa - Dipa? What is the unique trait that sets you apart from the rest?

Dipa is equal proportions of stubbornness, grit and anger. When I don’t reach my goal, it makes me so angry that I just don’t feel like doing anything else. In fact, there are days when I don't eat at home because I couldn’t complete a stunt or exercise. Then, my parents would call up my coach and complain. He would then convince me. So, I take these things seriously and I try to put double the effort until I make things work. I think that’s what has brought me all the way here.

Many women refrain from trying the Produnova vault. What made you go for it? 

Like I mentioned before, I am stubborn. I would go to any extreme to achieve what I want. In the 2014 commonwealth games, we were put in a spot where beating the vault of death (Produnova) was the only way to qualify for the medal. At that time, I felt, personally, Produnova was something that can take my game to the next level. So, I gave it my best shot and succeeded too.

Even a small mistake in Produnova can leave the player paralysed or with a neck injury. Did you realise the kind of risk you were taking? How did your parents react? 

Success comes with risks; you cannot choose between them. As for me, I wanted to bag a medal no matter what. I prepared myself for all the risks. Initially, my parents had no clue about the risks involved. Even after they knew about the risks, they had complete faith in my coach. They knew he wouldn’t let anything happen to me.

Given all the risks, how do you think parents should encourage girls to take up sports?

Most parents are scared for their child's safety. Hence, they do not let them pursue their dreams. But I would say, leave it to the coach. They usually take much care and work towards the same dream as your son or daughter. That is how my parents trusted my coach and me. So, the first thing is to always have trust.

Next is, bring your child to the field, only then true talents will be identified. Who knows your child might be an Olympic gold medalist someday!

#IAmStubborn: Dipa Karmakar And Her Inspiring Produnova Journey

Do you think sportswomen are given the same kind of respect/recognition as men in sports?

Initially, like way back in the early days, those kinds of differences existed. But now, times have changed. Not completely but there is change. We are two daughters in the family - my sister and I and we both never felt restricted for anything. The same applies to sports. I think the world has started recognising more female talents and that they are equally capable as men in terms of winning global medals.

Little girls love their Barbie dolls. How did it make you feel to actually have a doll made after you?

Yes, for their 60th anniversary, Barbie honoured me with a doll. I did not know how to react. I was very happy when I knew about this. It was a dream come true.

Any empowering moment or incident in your life that made you feel proud to be a woman?

There are many instances when I felt proud. The woman in me was proud when I broke all stereotypes and became a player. I feel proud each time a woman attempts the vault and does it well.

Who is that one woman who inspires you and why?

I do look up to many women. I believe there is always something to learn from each person. Simone Arianne Biles, an exceptional gymnast, is one of the many females I follow and admire.

Your message for Women’s Day to our readers.

There is so much potential in all of us, so we should channel our inner strength and give it our best. It’s not about proving it to the world, rather work on yourself and excel in what you do best.

To listen to the entire interview with Dipa Karmakar, check out our exclusive podcast!

Hall of fame

  • 2018: Became the first Indian gymnast ever to win a gold medal at an international event – FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Cup Series, Turkey.
  • 2017: Bestowed with the Padma Shri.
  • 2016: Became the first gymnast to represent India in the Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro. She attained fourth position in Women's Vault Gymnastics event.
  • 2016: Completed Produnova Vault with the highest score in the world.
  • 2015: Arjuna award for gymnastics.
  • 2015: Won bronze medal in the Asian Championships, Hiroshima.
  • 2014: Won bronze medal in the Commonwealth games, Glasgow.

Also read: #IAmGrit: Asha Roy On Braving All Odds

About the author:

Written by Siddiqha Naseem on 28 February 2020.

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