India's Flo Jo - The one and only Ashwini Nachappa


She is popularly known as 'Flo Jo', or 'Florence Griffith Joyner of India'. One of India's best-known sprinters, Ms. Ashwini Nachappa has represented our country in international sporting events like the Asian Games and the Olympics. She is honoured with the Arjuna Award. She is a social worker and most importantly, an educationalist. She is one of the founders of Karaumbiah's Academy for Learning & Sports, better known as KALS located in Coorg, Karnataka. Ms. Ashwini Nachappa is a multiple times National champion and has spent the last 15 years trying to develop Athletics in India. She founded Ashwini's Sports Foundation (ASF) in 2010 to groom talented athletes for the international stage.

Ms. Rashmi Furtado, Sr. Editor at Teacher Tribe world, interviewed Ms. Ashwini Nachappa on nurturing a sporting culture in India and its importance. They discussed the impact of NEP on sports education, a teacher's influence on a student - in academics and sports, and on her journey to one of the best sprinters of India.

 

1. A sportsperson turned educator, you have worn many hats, including acting in a film. As a nation, do you think we do enough to nurture sports talent?

India has evolved slowly but surely in the sporting front, especially in the last few years, that is the impetus given to sport for elite athletes. At the base and grassroots, much needs to be done. 'Khelo India' is one of the projects of the government trying to create the sporting base Nurturing sport talent happens when all children at every school and college play sport and are provided this opportunity and platform to unearth talent in its true sense.


2. To focus on your learnings, I recall interviewing Ms. Bachendri Pal and she mentioned that people laughed at her for taking up mountaineering. Did you experience something along the same lines, being a pioneering woman in athletics?

I was fortunate to have very supportive parents who were not from the sports background. My primary school PE teacher, Mrs. Beatrice Hegde gave me my first spikes recognising my talent in athletics. My senior school PE teacher Mr. Pushpangadan, along with my Principal and teachers were all very supportive and motivating. Back in our days, most of the State and National players emerged from a robust sports program and the fierce competition amongst schools at every sport made a huge difference for me to persue Athletics.


3. You now have a school, known for its special focus on sports. How do you ensure balance between studies and sports is maintained in your school?


When the right intent is there, everything follows. KALS is an ICSE school upto grade 12 and every child is part of a robust sporting culture, competitions that take place throughout the year, be it swimming, golf, athletics, road races, basketball, hockey, etc. KALS also hosts very professionally managed cpen tournaments in Hockey and Athletics where participants come from across districts and states.

Sports is very much integrated into our curriculum and our faculty, besides being fit themselves, are all aligned to the School's academic and sports vision. While we get cent percent results in academics, our athletes are at the state and national level in Athletics, Shooting and Hockey. Quality time by our teachers is given to our athletes at various levels who train and compete throughout the year.

4. Your experience with PT Usha is highlighted in almost every news article about you. What went through your mind at the time as a youngster and how did you overcome that constant comparison?


All of us must be aware of our strengths, work on it and captalise on it, be it mental, physical and emotional. I was different from the rest in the field in terms of style, approach and conduct which gave me great confidence. Mental training to a large extent played a crucial role in my achievements.


5. You qualified for the Olympics and represented our country. How did you feel making it to that pinnacle?


Representing our country at the Olympics is the dream of every athlete, and the journey in reaching that goal is a culmination of years of hard work and focus. The journey undertaken was tough with many challenges and hurdles to overcome but the journey in itself has been most enjoyable.

6. The National Education Policy 2020 has given a lot of importance to sports under holistic development. What is your view on it?

NEP is a much-needed breakthrough. Implementation is key and there lies the challenge. Physical fitness is a very important aspect of every child's development and the saying "A sound mind is found in a sound body" needs to be back in our education system.


7. Your journey inspires children in our country, especially girls to work towards their dreams. What message do you have for them?

Find your Interest, passion will follow. Work hard on every step of the ladder and it will help you reach the top. Success is the by-product of all the hard work dedication and approach to your INTEREST.

8. From the Arjuna Award to plenty more, you have many laurels. You have however been one of the most simple and approachable people. Is that something you advise youngsters to pay attention to?


Yes. In life, being grounded at all points in time is very important. The centre court at Wimbledon has lines from the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling. It aptly says, "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster | And treat those two imposters just the same." Be Human, be Humble and always have your head on your shoulders no matter how much success you have had.


9. Finally, there is no great student without a great teacher. What is your message to teachers across India and the world?

I can only Quote Benjamin Franklin "Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember, Involve me and I learn."

Without teachers none of the other professions would exist. Continue your Noble profession as YOU are the most IMPORTANT person in the cycle of life of every individual. Be truthful and committed!


This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine August 2021 edition.