From taking up the sport to battling social stigmas, Karnam Malleswari’s mother was a rock for her as she pursued her goals.
Karnam Malleswari's bronze at the Sydney 2000 Olympics - the first by an Indian woman at the Games - ushered in a new era for female athletes in the country.
Her era-defining feat, however, may not have been possible without the support of another woman - her mother Shyamla.
Growing up as a girl in a small town in Andhra Pradesh in the 80s and 90s, there was considerable stigma and resistance attached to Karnam Malleswari taking up weightlifting.
“Back then, there were a lot of restrictions on girls. For a woman in a sport like weightlifting, there was backlash from my relatives,” she recalled during The Medal of Glory show on Sony Sports’ Facebook page. “People would say that I will have health problems and I won't be able to bear children.
“But my mother shielded me from all that negativity. She wanted her daughter to do what she wanted to,” added the ‘Iron Girl of Andhra Pradesh’.
Karnam Malleswari went on to become an Olympic champion and the first on the list of five women, also featuring Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu, to have clinched a medal for India on the Olympic stage.
Her interest in weightlifting, in fact, started after watching her elder sister practice at a local gym. But when she expressed her interest to pursue the sport to the local coach, she was turned away.
“He told me that I wasn’t built for weightlifting. He said I was too weak and thin to lift weights and that I should stay at home to help my mother in her household chores,” Karnam Malleswari remembered.
“I felt bad about how, without knowing me, someone made the judgement what I was capable of,” she added.
Disheartened, angry and dejected, she went back home. But it was her mother’s intervention which made up her mind to pursue the sport and prove herself.
“My mother asked me what was the issue. I told her what happened and she asked me what I wanted to do about it. Then she told me that if I felt bad about people doubting my ability, then I should prove them wrong by going out there and pursuing weightlifting.
“She said if I wanted to work hard and become something in my life, she would always support me. I got a lot of support from her,” Karnam Malleswari said
Now a mother herself, Karnam Malleswari is nurturing a sporting dream of her own.
“My elder son (Sharad Chander Tyagi) started pursuing shooting. He got inspired by Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal (at the 2008 Beijing Olympics),” she revealed during the interview.
After coming to know about her son’s interest in shooting, Karnam Malleswari enrolled him in Gagan Narang’s Gun For Glory academy in Pune and also took an active role in his training.
“Since I have to guide him when he is home, I too started following shooting by reading about it in the papers and on the internet.
“If he has a doubt, I should be in a position to at least address it,” she had earlier stated in an interview with Times of India.