Teen para-table tennis player Vijaya Gangapatnam makes Telangana proud, wins 3 medals

Vijaya has defied the odds to become a shining star in table tennis

By Anoushka Caroline Williams  Published on  30 March 2024 5:29 AM GMT
Teen para-table tennis player Vijaya Gangapatnam makes Telangana proud, wins 3 medals

Hyderabad: At 13, Vijaya Deepika Gangapatnam holds the prestigious title of being India's youngest national silver medalist, a testament to her unwavering dedication and passion for her sport.

Despite facing challenges due to Osteo Geneses Imperfecta, commonly known as Brittle Bone Disease, Vijaya has defied the odds to become a shining star in table tennis.

In an interview with NewsMeter, Telangana teen Vijaya shares her journey into the world of sports, the trials and triumphs of national competition, and her aspirations for the future. Excerpts:

NM: Congratulations on your incredible achievements, Vijaya! Can you tell us about your journey into the world of sports and how you discovered your passion for your chosen discipline?

Vijaya: Thank you very much. Actually, this was my dad's plan. He's a tennis coach to my brother. My brother used to be one of the top players of his age, but due to the pandemic, he stopped playing tennis. My whole family is into sports. I was the only person in the family who didn't play any sport because of my condition. But my dad didn't let that stop me from getting into sports. He searched, explored, and probably worked harder than me, and that's how I got into table tennis. It fits best for my condition, so that's how I chose this. And surprisingly, I started to fall in love with this game too.

NM: Being the youngest national silver medalist in India is a remarkable accomplishment. What inspired you to pursue excellence in your sport at such a young age?

Vijaya: As I mentioned earlier, my dad did everything for me. I was introduced to this game and started to play, enjoy it, and work hard because my dad saw potential in me, and I wanted to make him happy. Now that I've performed so well and all my family members are extremely happy, that's my inspiration. I just want to continue making my dad and family happy with my favorite activity.

NM: Could you walk us through your experience competing in the national championships? What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them to secure your medals?

Vijaya: It was like riding a rollercoaster for me. It wasn't just about the tournament; it encompassed the entire journey from leaving my house to arriving at the destination and then competing. I met many players, each with different conditions and varying levels of severity. It made me feel safe and secure because I used to think I was the only person with a disability. But being there showed me that I'm not alone, and all these people are like family to me.

Then came the matches, which were both exciting and nerve-wracking. My opponents were highly experienced and talented, playing with a level of exposure I hadn't yet attained. However, I believe it was my brother's training and my mom's and his moral support that truly boosted my confidence. That's how I managed to overcome the challenges and difficulties I faced.

NM: Losing to an Olympic silver medalist in the finals must have been a tough moment. How did you stay motivated and focused after that defeat, and what did you learn from the experience?

Vijaya: It's unlike any other experience. I felt truly overwhelmed by the performance and it was an incredible opportunity for me to compete against an Olympic Silver medalist. It was a dream come true for me. So, I gave my best until the last moment of the match. The outcome was truly motivating for me, as it showed me the level of intensity and determination of an Olympic-standard player, fighting for each point as if it were the last. This is a lesson I will carry with me and strive to emulate in my life.

NM: It's disappointing to hear that you haven't received support from the government or any agency. How have you managed to train and compete without that support, and what changes would you like to see in terms of support for athletes like yourself?

Vijaya: As a para-athlete, we need tournaments specifically designed for para-athletes. So, I am directly affected by the lack of tournaments and exposure. It is the responsibility of the government to look after the specific needs of para-players. I did not practice with the appropriate wheelchair, tennis table, costumes, paddles, or even in the academy. Without an appropriate wheelchair, which is considered to be the second body for a person with a disability (PWD), I played in my first national ranking tournament (my first tournament ever) in Indore, MP. My father got a new wheelchair for my next tournament, the national championships 2023-24, again in Indore MP, after I won the silver medal in my first-ever tournament. When I approached the association and the government of Telangana, they said to come back after some more tournaments. In day-to-day life, we PWDs suffer a lot. For athletes like me, there are more difficulties, more dependencies, and so on. If I want to go to a tournament, I need at least two escorts (caretakers). So, we have to bear the entry-related expenses, travel expenses, accommodation and food expenses, and other miscellaneous expenses. To attend a single tournament, we need to spend at least not less than 50 thousand rupees within India. Since I won the major national championship silver medal and bronze, naturally, expectations to rise in world rankings by participating in international tournaments will increase. So, I will need a lot of money for each tournament. Now, the question for me is how to obtain those resources, except expecting from the government. It is entirely due to my wonderful family who supported me from the beginning to the end. My brothers take care of my training and fitness needs, my father takes care of my financial needs, and my mother takes care of my health and day-to-day needs. Since I am dependent on my family for everything, this is an additional burden that cannot be avoided. So, the government should come forward with financial support. It should organize tournaments, and sponsor training which are essential to showcase our state in international tournaments like the Commonwealth, Asian Games, World Championships, and Olympics.

NM: You mentioned your confidence in winning medals at international events with proper support. What specific areas of support do you believe are crucial for your success on the international stage?

Vijaya:: As I mentioned earlier, financial support is paramount for traveling and participating in international tournaments.

NM: As the only female from Telangana state to achieve such feats, what message do you have for aspiring young athletes, particularly girls, who may face similar challenges and obstacles in their pursuit of sporting excellence?

Vijaya: We have not expected this level of results on the national stage. But, after getting the results, we understood that my hard training and preparation for almost 9 hours a day for around 1 and half years, naturally these results are natural.

NM: As the only female from Telangana state to achieve such feats, what message do you have for aspiring young athletes, particularly girls, who may face similar challenges and obstacles in their pursuit of sporting excellence?

Vijaya: Yes, I would like to share my experience and views. We are fighting for our day-to-day lives, so there will be some extra effort needed. Dream for excellence, put in relentless efforts, and achieve your goals.

NM: Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations in your sporting career, both shortly and in the long term?

Vijaya: My goal is to win gold for my country in the Commonwealth, Asian Games, World Championships, and Olympics. In every tournament I compete in, I aim to emerge victorious and secure gold for my nation. I want to demonstrate to the world that we are the best and that India is the best.

NM: Finally, outside of your sport, what are some hobbies or interests that you enjoy, and how do they complement your athletic endeavors?

Vijaya: The name of my disability/condition, Osteo Geneses Imperfecta, is nothing but Brittle Bone Disease. So far, I have endured more than 55 fractures. Consequently, I never attended school. From my childhood, I have had a passion for drawing, singing, dancing, and writing stories. Interestingly, I never received formal instruction in any of these pursuits. I learned to sing by listening to my brother, who is a talented pop singer, and I picked up English by observation, enabling me to speak, read, and write. I began drawing on my own. Now, I have ventured into playing table tennis.

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