BEATING THE ODDS
Ilavazhaki is living her dream. Call it her father's dream. She's a world champion. Daughter of A. Irudayara and Selvi, Ilavazhaki is the eldest of three sisters. Her younger sisters are Ilakkia and Chevanthi.
Back in town after clinching the women's world carrom title in France. Ilavazhaki is wooed by the media. The spotlight is on her for the moment. As she is fondly called, takes it in her stride with a smile. Success sits lightly on this young champ. It is her childlike innocence that immediately endears you to her. Confident, yet not bordering on arrogance, that is Ilavazhaki, quite unlike several of the present crop of GenX.
Ilavazhaki has been winning global plaudits since 2003, but has remained virtually unknown in our country where the cricket fraternity and the tennis sensation rule the hearts of people.
Todat, she is numero uno after winning the title in the fifth World Carrom Championship at the Palais Des Festivals, Cannes, in Feb 2008. She defeated P.Nirmala of Hyderabad with a score of 25-11,25-11 in the finals. Twenty nations participated in the tournament.
"It felt really great. I was the youngest among the players there, They were all very encouraging," she says.
Post-victory, she was showered with gifts from other players. One player even offered her 1000 Euros in exchange for her striker, her most prized possession. Says Ilavazhaki," I have been using this striker for the past eight years. It is my lucky talisman. Even my father does not play with it."
Earlier, she had won the national title in Chennai, beating former World Carrom Champion Rashmi Kumari, also from India. Of all the victories, this one is closest to her heart. "I had won several matches before this, but this was special, since it was played in Chennai, my hometown," she explains.
Her father Irudayaraj was a district level champion in carrom, but with no encouragement from his family, he could not pursue the game.
When his daughter was born, Irudayaraj began dreaming once again. From the time she was two, he would carry her with him to the tournaments he played in with friends at local clubs.
Selvi (Ilavazhaki mother) says, "Even when she was six-months old, my husband would put her at the board." Probably the feel of the board and the sound of the striker and coins would have sown a passion of the game in the girl from an early age.
Irudayaraj began coaching his daughter when she was around five. "In the mornings we would practice from 4 to 8. I then used to accompany him to the local clubs where he played matches."
On one such occasion - she must have been around seven-- Irudayaraj asked his daughter " Would you like to play a match ?? "
Ila was surprised. "How could I play against my father or his friends, they were all seniors?" she had wondered.
Irudayaraj persisted. she agreed to play a match against here father. Recalling that day, she says with a smile, "I won the match, but father deliberately lost the game. I was so thrilled. It gave me confidence."
Referring to the incident, the proud father says, "She is my child, not my competitor. It was her learning years and that encouragement helped her to move ahead."
From winning the junior nationals in 2000 at Dehra Dun, to the World Championship in france, it has been a long journey.
From 2003 to 2005, she won the singles regularly in youth national tournaments. She won the 12th Federation Cup in 2004 and was runner-up the next year the same tournament. In 2003 when the US open tournament was scheduled in New Jersey, she realised that in order to participate in this tourney, she needed funds to the tune of Rs. 75,000. With ouly 15days left for the tournament, Champion gave up hope of participating in it. But Selvi said, "You should not give up so easily. Let us see if someone can help us." And the Good Samaritan was Dr.Christodas Gandhi, IAS who helped her. Since then, he has been helping her participate in tournaments abroad.
Looking back on those difficult moments, she says, "I owe it all to Christodas Sir. I had no passport, but Sir got it ready for me within two days. I had to go to Delhi for training. It was the first time I was travelling alone." She was 19 then gandhi Sir got in touch with IPS Thilakavathy who deployed a couple of police persons in mufti to escort me to Delhi."
At the US Open in 2003, she came third and won the 'Best Woman Player' award. At the 10th SAARC International event in 2006, she was runner-up, but the following year, when the 11th SAARC tournament was held in Nagpur, she emerged winner.
At the 1st and 2nd Asian cupin 2005 and 2006, she won. There has been no looking back since then. At the South Zone tourney held in Pondicherry, in Feb 2008 victory was hers.
|with my dad Irudayaraj|
Irudayaraj says, "She is mature beyond her age. Her success is the result of her hard work, her determination and belief in herself." Modest about her success, the young champ says, "It is God's gift and my parents encouragement. When I lose a match, they tell me it is OK. Only work harder for the next match so that you may win a bigger tournament."