Humble beginnings, hard work and a will to succeed, Anusha Parthasarathy narrates the stories of four young achievers who have braved all odds to realise their dreams

Striking it right

Ilavazhagi – world carom champion

Iruthayaraj wanted his daughters to be independent and accomplished, because his father didn’t allow him to. A rickshaw driver, he helped his daughter Ilavazhagi hone her skills in carom, after he realised her talent for the game. Ilavazhagi quit school after standard nine but her tryst with the square board spread her name far and wide.The family lived in a slum in Vyasarpadi and couldn’t afford a carom board. “I’d wake up at 4 a.m. to go to a neighbouring centre to play. When I participated in a school tournament and won, my physical training teacher and the principal of my school presented me a carom board,” she says.

For three years, Ilavazhagi bagged the Junior Champion title (2000 to 2002) and next three saw her win the National Youth Champion title (2003 to 2005). When she had a chance to participate in the World Championship in 2006, funds were hard to come by. Fortunately, an IAS officer sponsored her trip and she went on to become the World Champion in carom that year.

History repeated itself in 2008. “The world championship was held in France and I won that as well. In 2010, when it was held in the United States, different institutions came forward with sponsorships and I won that year as well.” With a job at a reputed Government institution and a husband who shares her interest, Ilavazhagi now looks towards starting a coaching club for people with similar interests.

“We’d like to start a coaching club for underprivileged children who are interested in sport so that we can encourage more champions to emerge,” she says.

Counting success

Gnana Sampath – All-India rank holder in CA

Born and brought up in a village called Pogalur near Coimbatore, Gnana Sampath grew up walking a few kilometres and taking a bus to school everyday. This being difficult, his parents, who are agricultural labourers, sent him to Ellapalayam to live and study with his grandparents. Though they could barely make ends meet, they encouraged him to study.

When he chose to pursue commerce, his uncle, a graduate himself, supported his decision and asked him to also take up Chartered Accountancy. “I did my B.Com in Coimbatore and then my articleship.”

Recently, when the results for the Chartered Accountancy exams were announced, Gnana Sampath was pleasantly surprised to find that he ranked third in the country. “I studied up to 14 hours a day in the last four months. I attended classes in Chennai for some time. When I wrote the exam, I knew I had done well but I didn’t expect a rank.” How did his parents react to their son securing a national rank? “My parents were happy,” he says, “they didn’t really understand the value of a third rank but they know I had made something out of myself. My uncle, on the other hand, was very excited because he knew how big my achievement was.”

Swimming against odds

V. Vignesh and D. Manikandan - Reigning National Stand-up Paddling Champions

Born in Kovalam village, V. Vignesh and D. Manikandan grew up by the sea, helping their fathers fish. They started with surfing by untying catamaran logs and trying to balance on them.

“The children are taken to the middle of the sea and asked to swim back,” says Madhumathi Ravi, co-founder, Bay of Life, a surfing school. “This way they know the waters like the back of their hand and are good at surfing and stand-up paddling. Vignesh is a school dropout who started helping his father.” Vignesh and Manikandan became friends and learnt to surf together. And when Bay of Life started in Kovalam in 2011, the two boys were trained in stand-up paddling and inducted as trainers. “After the tsunami many fishermen were hit hard and some of them wanted to try their hand at surfing. They were willing to join us as instructors,” says Showkath Jamal, co-founder, Bay of Life.

In 2012, during the first India Surf Festival in Orissa, Vignesh and Manikandan were among the 30 participants selected to paddle. They won the first and second places. At this year’s India Surf Festival, sanctioned by the World Paddle Association, Vignesh and Manikandan maintained their positions as defending champions. “The World Paddle Association is the governing body for Stand-up Paddling, like the ICC for Cricket. It’s a platform to go international,” Showkath says.

The duo even created a record by finishing the finals under 24 minutes. “Their timings are on a par with stand-up paddling champions across the world. Most people who prepare for these races go through a rigorous exercise routine and follow a diet. These guys eat what they want and refuse to step into a gym. The sport is in their blood,” says Madhumathi, while Showkath adds, “We’re pitching hard for sponsors to send them abroad to participate in bigger championships.”