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You Heard This Right: A Yacht Club For The Poor

By Nirupa Vatyam | Sep 14, 2022

Hyderabad Club Trains, Equips Children To Sail Into The Future

Vaishnavi, 15, would not have sailed the distance she has, literally, if the Yacht Club of Hyderabad had not picked her for training. Vaishnavi Veeravamsham, a Class X student, aims to represent India in the Asian Games and Olympics. She has sailed a long way.

“When I was nine years old, a few people from the Club came to our school and asked who was interested in sailing. I did not know what sailing was but I raised my hand because I thought I will get to go to a camp,” Vaishnavi, who was then a student of the Government Girls High School, west Maredpally, said.

After training for about a month, she won a gold medal in the 2017 Monsoon Regatta in the optimist junior fleet. She has three gold and silver medals each, and two bronze medals. Vaishnavi, who did not take a break from training during the pandemic, represented the country in the Oman Senior World Championships in December 2021; she was the youngest sailor there.

“I want to join the Navy,” she said. “Without the help of the club, I would have not been able to learn the sport,” she added.

The club takes in children whose parents earn less than Rs 20,000 a month. Like Vaishnavi, there are 800-plus children the club has taught to sail since 2009. It has delivered six national champions, four state champions, 68 medals and 30 international contenders. Nineteen of its former trainees are in the army and navy.

“We select only students from marginalised communities as that is where one can make a huge difference,” said Suheim Sheikh, the president of the club, which believes in “dignity through sports”.

One important feature Sheikh had noticed among children from disadvantaged communities was their sense of wanting to excel. The selection process is simple. The club looks for children who are fit, have a sense of balance and are willing to continue learning. “Out of 100 students, 90 leave within six months, mostly because of lack of parental support,” Sheikh said.

Most students at the club are enrolled in an open school and are provided with tuition and online classes so that they don’t fall behind academically.

Not just training, the club takes care of everything. Food, travel expenses, tuitions are all covered,” said Preethi Kongari, a national champion in the 2019 Monsoon Regatta National Ranking event held in Hyderabad.

She started training from the age of 11 and had almost quit soon after joining. “Back then, my mother was reluctant as she was worried about my safety in the water. Even I was scared as I had fallen into the water and thought of leaving . But my coach convinced us and taught me to swim,” said Preeti, who is a housekeeper at a private company, also wants to join the navy.

Recently, two boys from the club — Gowtham Kankatla and Durga Prasad — made it to the Navy. They are expected to join the Navy sailing team soon. “My son used to walk from his school to the club (about 4km) for training. He never neglected his studies. Poverty has taught him to work hard and today it has made him successful,” said Sarada Erra, Prasad’s mother, who works as a housekeeper at an automobile firm. Prasad’s father runs a small photocopying centre. “He was always on time for the training and won many medals,” Sarada said, but there used to be hardly anything at home to eat during his childhood. The family was thankful that he got nutritious food because of the club.

Gowtham’s mother Vijaya Lakshmi shared the same sentiment. “We struggled even for basics during Gowtham’s childhood as I used to earn

Rs 3,000 a month. I am glad that my son will have a great future,” Lakshmi, who works in the housekeeping staff at a hospital, said.

Ahead of the Asian Games in 2026 and the Olympics in 2028, the club plans to organise a huge selection drives to recruit new talent.

“We will try to select about 1,000 students studying in government schools or from marginalised sections of society and train them with all facilities. Our target is the Asian Games and the Olympics,” said Sheikh. The club also plans to provide training for girls to appear for the National Defence Academy exam.

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