Guwahati: “Everything has come to me because of the sport,” quips Shraddha Gaikwad after bagging a gold medal at the 36th National Games in the skateboarding street.
But if you regularly ‘Netflix and Chill’, chances are you are already familiar with Shraddha, the inspiration behind the movie Skater Girl which was released on the OTT platform last year. Shraddha is skateboarding-personified, living the skateboarding life 24*7. Her Instagram bio says ‘Skateboarding for life’, and her skating videos, including one in a saree, dot her timeline. And at 16, Shraddha has already been featured in TV advertisements for Patanjali and Pantene.
But behind all the limelight and triumph is a story of hard-fought battles. Shraddha, who hails from the Beed district in Maharashtra, picked the sport because of a series of fortunate coincidences which began in 2017.
Shraddha’s father, Ravindar Gaikwad, had to move to Pune to work as a security guard. But in the first of the many ‘fortunate coincidences’, of all the places where he could have worked as a security guard, he ended up at India’s premier sports outlet, Decathlon, for Rs 12,000 a month. Initially, Ravindra moved alone, but his family of six had joined him in Wagholi, Pune by the end of the year.
Shraddha, the eldest of the four siblings, was assigned to carry the lunch box for her father. On one such trip, Shraddha’s eyes fell on a customer trying to balance himself on a skateboard. Yet another ‘fortunate coincidence’. Of all the sports, it was skateboarding that caught her attention.
A curious 12-year-old Shraddha wanted to try it, and the customer obliged her request. She not only rode the skateboard but managed to balance it after a few attempts. And that became her routine from there on! “I was so happy that I could get the balance right. That was my introduction to skateboarding,” she said in a conversation with EastMojo in Ahmedabad.
“But skateboarding is costly, you know, I didn’t have an idea about how much it would cost. So I went back and told my mother about the sport, and that I wanted to try it. She hadn’t even heard about it, so I had to explain to her,” she tells EastMojo, recalling the funny conversation with a wide smile.
“A few days later, there was a workshop at the store, and when I enquired my father about it, he said he had no idea. And my curiosity grew, I wanted to take part in it after I saw kids of my age training there,” she went on to add.
At the workshop, she met her current coach, Swapnil Magare. He was impressed by the youngster’s tricks with the board and like a true coach who knows how to act on talent when they see one, he asked her to start training with him during weekends.
But young Shraddha could sense an impending fear. What if her parents came to know about her training, more than that if her decision will burn their pockets? But again, time for a fortunate coincidence. Shraddha soon found that training barefoot wasn’t easy. And upon seeing her dedication to the sport, the store manager at Decathlon, Abu Sheikh, offered her a pair of new shoes.
“He offered me a pair of shoes and a skateboard for free since I was practising bare-footed. That’s how my journey began,” recalled Shraddha, now a class X1 student of the V S Satav High School in Wagholi.
But even then, Shraddha’s skateboarding career could have ended even before it took off had Matare not intervened on time. In December 2018, Matare wanted Shraddha to take part in South Asia’s largest skateboarding competition, Jugaad International Skateboarding Competition in Bengaluru. Gaikwad Sr was hesitant at the thought of a girl competing in sports events, being a father and all, worried about his daughter, but after the coach and daughter insisted, he gave in.
On reaching Bengaluru, Shraddha was surprised to see the kind of adulation she received from the spectators and her competitors. It was at that moment, she discovered that her coach had opened an Instagram account in her name, and had been uploading uploaded her skating videos.
“I was surprised to see my Instagram handle, with my videos on it. People recognized me in Bengaluru. I couldn’t control my emotions. They cheered for me when I was on my runs, and I managed to return with a bronze. That boosted my confidence, and my parents never objected to my choice from that day,” she said.
And the last of the fortunate coincidences? The National Games returned after a hiatus of seven years, giving Shraddha the perfect platform to spread her wings. Will those wings take her to the top at the Asian Games? Only time will tell. Shraddha has jumped over every obstacle thanks to her never-ending efforts and the support she has received, and she is in no mood to stop.
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