Hyderabad: Preparing for her 10th standard pubic exams, Budda Reddy Aruna’s world came crashing down with her father’s demise. Till then her doting dad had ensured she went around only by car, took care of her every need in her love for Shotokan karate and gymnastics.
Good times soon turned bad. Her mother gave her Rs. 20 a day to meet bus fare for school, her training and the trip back home. On one occasion, what little money she had left was stolen from her bag at the stadium. She had to walk the 10 kms home ! But her home-maker mum would say hardships only made people tougher.
Not yet 10, Aruna struck gold in the table vault at the 2005 sub junior Nationals in Maharashtra. That feat fuelled her ambitions, her rise in the sport, slow maybe, but steady. Her growing proficiency became evident by her 13th birthday at the 54th National School Games in Hyderabad, her hometown.
It was a clean sweep. Just into her teens, the sprightly lass clinched gold in the table vault, balancing beam, uneven bars, floor exercise, individual and team championships ! The golden streak mostly continued in the table vault through her years as a junior and her entry into senior competitions across the country.
Bigger challenges beckoned. In the 2017 Bangkok senior Asian championships, she finished sixth in the table vault. A dilemma arose whether she should go back to studies, neglected perhaps due to sports, even as she was not heading anywhere with the latter.
Her personal coach N. Brij Kishore, whose health was steadily deteriorating, urged her not to give up the sport. He introduced Aruna to his good friend and also a coach, Manoj Kumar Rana. Through the latter’s good offices, Aruna went to Poland and Ukraine and trained under Andrei Levit, considered the coaches’ coach in gymnastics. A two-month stint with the sport’s leading light costed a whopping Rs. 20 lakhs !
Under coach Alexander, she trained in Uzbekistan in December but wasn’t selected during the February 2018 trials at Delhi to represent India at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April. Later in February itself, there was the World Cup in Melbourne, which she entered. With a bronze in the table vault, a first for any Indian in a World Cup, Aruna had carved a niche for herself in the country’s gymnastics landscape.
Her elements were a front five 180 degree (half turn) in the first vault and a Tsuk 360 in the second. In the floor exercise too, she acquitted herself honourably, reaching the finals and finishing sixth. The Telangana Government, in recognition of her outstanding achievement, gave her a Rs. 2 crore prize on her return.
She was now included in the Indian contingent for the Commonwealth Games. Unfortunately, on the day of her competition, word came that her personal coach and family friend from childhood Brij Kishore had passed away of blood cancer.
Worse was to follow. At the October 2018 World Cup in Cottbus, the first qualification event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Aruna suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in the right knee upon landing in the first round of her vault.
Two months later, doctors Ram Mohan Reddy and Deepthi Nandan Reddy performed surgery on her knee at Continental Hospital. Normal recovery time after such a procedure is a year and a half. Yet in nine months time, the pressure to secure an Olympic quota place was high and she was back on the international stage for the World Championship at Stuttgart, Germany.
On the eve of the competition, the troublesome knee got hyper extended and began to wobble. The dormant ACL tear was not only aggravated, but all the repair work on the joint was completely undone, forcing her to limp out of the premier event. Less than a year after her first surgery, Aruna again came under the knife, was back on the operating table.
This time round, the ACL tear was given enough time for healing and reconstruction. For all the adversities faced, there were good Samaritans in her career too, such as the doctors and hospital, who waived and subsidised costs for her surgeries. So is she grateful to Mr. Arogya Reddy, proprietor of St. Mary’s Junior College in Basheerbagh and St. Mary’s Degree College in Yousufguda, where she didn’t have to pay a rupee towards fees to obtain her B Com degree.
“Manoj Rana sir is a father figure for me and much more than a mentor,” says a grateful Aruna, hailed by one and all after her Melbourne accomplishment, but to this day unemployed. Rana’s backing has brought immense stability and self-belief to her hitherto floundering career. With his steadfast support, the 25-year-old is all geared up for the 50th Artistic and the 38th Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships at Kitakyushu, Japan, two months from now, in October.
(A. Joseph Antony is/was a Sony TV commentator for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Euro 2020, Copa America 2021 and Tokyo Olympics 2020. The author of ‘My way—The biography of M.L. Jaisimha’ (Amazon, Apple Books), he was a Senior Assistant Editor with The Hindu in Hyderabad.)