B Narayana Reddy took the biggest decision of his younger daughter Aruna’s life when she went from Upper Kg to Class 1. And it didn’t concern books. He pulled her out of Karate and put her into gymnastics in 2002, because she displayed inordinate flexibility skills for someone asked to chop a wooden block and screech a ‘Ho’.
“I owe everything to him, and if he’d been alive and seen me on the podium today, he’d have been so happy. He was there in my days of struggle, but couldn’t watch me win,” recalls the 22-year-old Aruna Budda Reddy, India’s first medallist at the gymnastics’ World Cup – a bronze in the women’s vault – in Melbourne. The late accountant from Hyderabad was keen that his daughter would make a career in sports, and the decimal crunching was to be not in stuffy offices poring over balance-sheets, but on apparatus in indoor stadiums.
Aruna would crack her B.Com accountancy with little effort eventually, but it was the early persistence of her father that kept her in the sport. “I didn’t like gymnastics initially. But he kept saying I’m good at it. Then the gold medals in nationals started coming. I started loving the sport and its movements. After every hard day, there was a medal as prize,” she recalls.
In Melbourne, Aruna would attempt two of the mid-rung vaults – a Tsukahara 360 and a Handspring Pike 180 – where her execution score was the second best at the meet (9.066) and finish with 13.649 behind gold winner Slovenia Tjasa Kysslef (13.800) to bring India its first medal at the World Cups.
“Our father died of a heart stroke at 55 in 2010. For many years after that she would feel lost and though we supported her financially, she needed this medal for her confidence,” says sister Pavani Reddy.
The sister recalls how their mother and she had objected to putting Aruna into gymnastics — which required her to travel to different districts and states, and undertake a very painful physical activity. “We kept saying why are you putting a girl into this sport? There are common notions about how tough it can be for girls. She was very young – 6 or 7. But when she started winning medals, she shut our mouth. Our father always said he knew what he was doing. Today, the whole country will be proud of her,” Pavani adds.
Though the world’s top vaulters were not in action at Melbourne, and Aruna promises to raise her bar at the Commonwealth Games, this medal is an important milestone for the bright graduate.
“She’s a good vaulter, a calm gymnast with excellent temperament. This is just the start, and she can increase the turns (rotations) on her routine and score higher,” said national head coach GS Bawa, after her two runs with Difficulty scores of 4.8 and 4.6.
Aruna had qualified second for the finals on Saturday, and finished marginally behind the silver medallist – local girl Emily Whitehead with 13.699. She’s begun working on upgraded vaults looking ahead to the CWG, but this medal counts for much.
“Dipa Di is a role model, she’s the absolute icon. But following in her footseps was tough,” says the gymnast who also idolises McKayla Maroney. “Practice makes man perfect. It’s what I need to do going forward,” she added. “These scores are not enough for a CWG medal. I’m proud of this podium, but this is only the start,” she ended.