A Thousand People Might Say That You Can’t Do It, You Only Need That One Person To Tell You That You Can!- In Conversation with Gold Medalist Rohini Rau!

Rohini’s talents transcend the world of sailing. She is a functional medicine doctor, theatre artist, TED Fellow and a dutiful mother.

Women can have it all, a successful career, a loving family and a passion that transcends all barriers. Rohini Rau is an example of one such woman of substance who chose to follow her passions defying all odds.

A defining moment in her sailing career came in 2004 when Rohini secured India’s first international gold medal for a women’s youth team at the prestigious Asian Sailing Championship. This victory not only marked a personal triumph but also highlighted her dedication to pushing boundaries and achieving the extraordinary. With a staggering participation record of 9 World Championships, her consistency and skill shine through her impressive collection of 6 international medals. On the national stage, she has clinched 32 National Medals, a testament to her dedication and excellence in sailing.

However, Rohini’s talents transcend the world of sailing. She is a functional medicine doctor, theatre artist, TED fellow and a dutiful mother. In an exclusive interview with JFW, we spoke to this multifaceted woman about her journey and life:

Her tryst with the water…
I started sailing at the age of 10 when I went to a summer camp. Here I learnt the basics of sailing and that’s how I got the chance to sail at the national level championships. I was one of 4 girls who participated, and because of that, they introduced a separate category for girls. I have been competing ever since then. I sailed on this tiny boat called the Optimus, which is for children below the age of 15. And then I graduated to this boat called the 420. It’s a double handler, which means it requires 2 people to sail the boat. At that time, the Asian sailing championship was being held in India, and they were looking out for an Indian girls’ team. I formed a team with my ex-colleague who is from Goa. We trained for a few months and when we competed, we secured the gold. This was the first time an Indian women’s youth team won a medal. This created ripples.

After school…
Through the sports quota, I got into medicine at the Chengalpattu Government Medical College. But when I joined, it was tough to manage both studying medicine and sailing parallelly. I had just secured a gold medal and I couldn’t let the sport take a sideline, considering I got in because of the sports quota. So, R Ashwin, the Indian cricketer and I got into college at the same time. He got into engineering and I got into medicine. It came to a point where I had to choose between participating in a championship and my final exams. When my dean called in my parents to discuss this, he sat them down and told them that they should be proud of their daughter, not many women get the honour of representing their country in a sport. That I should pursue the sport since college can be finished at any time, even later. He told my parents to let me finish my degree in my own time without compromising on the sport. I ended up taking 8 years to finish a 5-year degree course. I was campaigning for the Olympics in 2012. It was a very arduous journey for me to balance both medicine and sailing.

The Olympic campaign
So, I failed to qualify for the Olympics by one spot. And that was probably the toughest thing to get over for me. From the time I started as a young girl, there were hardly any women in this sport. Slowly, a lot more women started coming up. I was competing against the army and the navy men. When I asked for support to train abroad, they told me that I had enough competition in India and that I had to beat the men first. I took that as a challenge. The only thing I realised that I was lagging when compared to the army and navy men was my physical fitness. I trained extensively and within a couple of years, I tied in with them in one of the open nationals. When it came to the Olympics and sending a representative from India, they chose to send an Army man without even considering me. That was disappointing because I was the next in line for the position and they didn’t send my name.

Second Innings

In 2019, I was asked to form an all-women’s team for another boat called the J-80, it was the world championship that was happening in Spain. It was the first time I was sailing on this particular boat and I also trained a non-sailor to be part of my team. We managed to come fourth among the women in the world championship.

I created a world record this June sailing as part of Tamil Nadu’s women’s team. We sailed 1000 kilometres unassisted. I hadn’t sailed for the last 2-3 years as I had my baby girl so this was another new experience for me. It was one of the scariest expeditions I’ve done in my life. I’ve sailed for many years, but this was completely new, we sailed overnight and even overcame a storm in the open waters. The expedition was from Chennai to Pulicat until Point Calimere, which is next to Sri Lanka and then back to Chennai. It was one of the most challenging things that I’ve been a part of.

Women can have it all.

In this day and age, where everyone is talking about women’s empowerment and feminism with so much fervour, we tend to forget a huge part of the picture, which is our support system. I have to acknowledge the support that I have to do all the things that I am doing. A lot of time, opportunities come your way but it’s a lot more difficult to take those up because you tend to think about what are the things you might be missing out on. Especially after becoming a parent, you tend to understand how you tend to think more about the others around you than yourself. I remember my mother sitting outside government offices for my permissions, to make sure I went to those championships. Your parents do so much in the background. We can achieve a lot if we have our people standing to support us and cheer us, You might have a thousand people say that you can’t do it, but you only need that one person to tell you that you can!

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