Ruhi Shingade: Champion Powerlifting Prodigy of World Dwarf Games ‘17
An Upbringing Despite Many Odds
“I was born an achondroplasia dwarf. When my mother was pregnant, the doctor had told her that the child could be differently-abled.”
Apart from her parents, Ruhi has two younger brothers. Her father is a bank employee and mother is a housewife. Your everyday middle-class family! But what sets this family apart from others is the strength and support displayed by them towards Ruhi.
Talking about her physicality and the unconditional support that she has had for all these years from her parents, she says, “I am very lucky to have such great and supporting parents. When I was a little kid, I was not aware of my condition. I was born an achondroplasia dwarf. When my mother was pregnant, the doctor had told her that the child could be differently-abled. After I was born, my father asked the surgeons about corrective surgery for my curved limbs. He met a surgeon who was a friend since his college days. He suggested that we better not go for the operation as the chances of it being 100% successful were slim; my condition could either improve or get worse. My parents decided that they will bring me up like a normal baby and won’t let the disability come in my way. Till date, they have supported me in my studies, my hobbies and my dreams. Whatever I want to do, they just support me”.
Thanks to this, Ruhi has represented India 3 times in World Dwarf Games. She participates in powerlifting, badminton and discus throw. Her first international medal came in 2013 (Michigan, U.S.A.) then 2015 (Stoke Mandeville, London) and 2017 (Ontario, Canada). Between these three sports, she has won 17 gold, 8 silver and 5 bronze medals till date, which totals up to an impressive tally of 30 medals at such a young age.
Beginning in Sports
Speaking about her sport, Ruhi tell us, “Powerlifting is all about strength. Whenever I step onto the floor to perform, I feel motivated from inside and I can feel that competitive spirit. At 15, I had joined a gym to maintain my weight because in dwarfs, the body doesn’t grow in height after a certain point. But the person starts to get fat. I didn’t want to go down that path. So some of my friends recommended that I joined a gym. So I started going to this gym in our locality. Then, after my 10th standard, we had a vacation and went to Nagpur, my native place. There I met a person called Amit Patel. When he learnt about me, he took interest in my case and introduced me to the world of powerlifting. He told me about this annual state level event of powerlifting. He told me if I were interested, I could go there and meet an instructor, Vijay Munishwar. Accompanied by my father and uncle, I went to meet Vijay sir. When I expressed my interest in powerlifting, he asked me to pick up a weight for trial. I lifted the weight successfully. Though it was only 20 kgs, it’s still a considerable weight for people like me. He appreciated my effort and asked me to participate in the upcoming state championship. Feeling a rush within, I started practicing rigorously, and soon at the annual state level event, I won a gold in junior category and a bronze in senior category, 40 kg class. This was at the age of 15 in 2010”.
That Feeling of Pride
We always wanted to ask a sportsperson about what drives them to represent their country so much. To this Ruhi Shingade has a very nice analogy. She explains, “In my first ever World Dwarf Games in 2013 in Michigan, U.S., I won a gold in powerlifting. I literally cried when I was selected. Before that, I had played for district and state level. But I always wanted to go forward from there and represent my country at the world stage. Like a promotion is to an employee, a chance to represent India on world stage is a sportsman’s promotion to the next level. And by god, it is a huge promotion”.
She further adds, “When I used to play for district and state level, I always saw these national level players; their jerseys carrying their and their country’s names in bold. I wished to wear such a jersey one day with me and my country’s name on it. With that aim, I practiced rigorously. That is how I have reached this level today”.
Social Stigma in Dwarfs
Recounting some of her harsh experiences at the hands of the society, Ruhi tells us, “There are two kinds of dwarfism. One is in which the person’s height doesn’t grow beyond a point. The other one is achondroplasia dwarfism, which I have. In this, apart from the height issue, we have curve-shaped limbs as well. This restricts us from running or walking long distances. At first, I didn’t have any idea about my condition. But as I grew up, I saw all my friends growing taller. That is when I started asking questions to my parents. People sometimes even teased me or laughed at me. But my parents always told me not to underestimate myself and to ignore such people. Now that I have started representing my country in international events, I feel a rush of pride. I am happy now. Now when someone teases me, I don’t get affected at all. Being able to overcome my disability and reaching this level in life is all I could ever ask for”.
Government Support Or the Lack of It
To that effect, Ruhi shares her experience. She says, “When I went to Michigan for the first time to represent India at World Dwarf Games, we didn’t get any support from the government. The trip’s estimated expenses were exorbitant, especially for someone like me from a middle class family. At the same time, I didn’t want to miss out on this lifetime opportunity. I even tried getting sponsorships on my own but in vain. As a last resort, my father took a loan to send me to the games. I know it was very, very hard for him but my family stood by me for this. Then in 2015 World Dwarf Games, Sports Authority of India (SAI) sponsored us, which was a welcome change. But then in 2017 World Dwarf Games, no one came to our support. I don’t know why. It’s baffling especially when you have already represented your country in two previous world championships and won gold. With no other help in sight, I had to again take out a loan”.
Financial Hardships and Government Jobs
“My question to the governing body is that why don’t we get the required support even after proving our mettle again and again?”
Speaking about it, she says, “It’s pretty hard. My father has already taken two loans. Now he has informed me that we cannot raise any more loans without clearing the previous ones. In our house, my father is the sole earning member feeding five of us. His retirement is also just around the corner. So my question to the governing body is that why don’t we get the required support even after proving our mettle again and again? I don’t even get a government job after all this. In 2015, the government had announced jobs for Paralympic players who have secured medals and a graduate degree. I had applied for that with all the required documents. Till date, I have not received any reply from them. The cost for participation in games is too much. Because of lack of such support, many players that I know have already left playing: broke and feeling alienated. It is very disheartening. Also, at such tournaments, there is a lot of partiality w.r.t. facilities provided to the able-bodied athletes. Between the three categories that I participate in, I have just one coach. I appeal to the government to at least give us jobs so that we can find our own footing and take it forward from there. We would like it better to be self-dependent”.
Like Ruhi, there are so many other differently-abled players who are making their country proud every day. We all must come together in support of such individuals having the nerves of steel. Ruhi has just been selected for Badminton World Federation (BWF) tournament that would be held in Korea between 21st -26th November 2017.