Mary Kom and Kim Clijsters are stalwarts in the sport of boxing and tennis respectively. And one common feature in both their careers has been the success they have achieved after attaining motherhood.
Clijsters won the 2009 US Open after giving birth to her daughter Jada in 2008. She went on to win two more major titles (US Open in 2010/Australian Open in 2011) before retiring in 2012. Mary Kom had twins in 2007 and then gave birth to their third son in 2013. She went on to win gold at 2014 Asian Games and at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games, she struck gold yet again.
The latest entrant is Serena Williams who is eyeing to improve on her record haul of Grand Slams at the French Open, making her comeback to a Major after becoming a mother last year.
Taking inspiration from this fact are India women rugby players Sangeeta Bera and Subhalaxmi Barik.
The duo are part of the Indian women’s squad as the team make their international debut in rugby’s traditional 15-player format at the Asian Championship, Division 1 along with fellow-debutants Philippines and Singapore in June. India will face-off against hosts Singapore in the opening game, then the Philippines on June 5.
Sangeeta, 35, is the oldest member in the squad and is going to play her first international game after a gap of three years. Subhalaxmi, 28, is also taking to the field after a gap of two years.
“If anything, motherhood has made us stronger,” said Sangeeta to The Field.
Sangeeta, who is also a 100-metre dash specialist and works for the Kolkata police force, played her last rugby game in 2015. She then gave birth to a boy in 2015 after which she had to stay away from sports for a period of two years.
Such was her obsession that even though the doctors suggested a cesarean delivery, she stressed on normal delivery. “I told him that I want to play in future and hence a normal delivery is a must. A cesarean creates a problem,” said Sangeeta.
However, the challenge was getting back to their physical best.
“It is a real struggle to return to competitive sport after becoming a mother. The child has to breastfed and plus taking care of a child and its needs is difficult. You don’t get proper sleep. Plus your body puts on a lot of fat as well,” said Subhalaxmi, a forest officer for Odisha forest department.
Once things settled down, then they began working on their fitness. The truth is, it was easier said than done. They had to manage a home and a job as well. “I get up at 4 am and cook food for the family and also do other household chores. I leave the house by 5 am so that I reach the ground by 6 am. I then would train till 9 and then head to work,” said Sangeeta.
Subhalaxmi follows a similar schedule as well. “It is difficult because time is also less. Before the baby I used to train three or four times a day but now I train only once that too in the morning,” she said.
However, they owe it to their family members who support their dream of representing India. “They know that representing the country is a big thing so they have supported us throughout,” said Sangeeta.
Subhalaxmi also trained with her brother Shakti Ranjan Barik who is a power lifter and recently bagged gold for India at Commonwealth Powerlifting and Benchpress Championship in South Africa. “He used to give me throw downs and helped me a lot to get rid of the fat,” she said.
They focused on shedding the extra fat and increasing their stamina. “Running is all that we did. Once we lost weight we began our rugby training,” said Sangeeta.
Another aspect that worked in their favour was their respective jobs. Sangeeta is a sub-inspector in the Kolkata police force. “I work in the detective department. We conduct a lot of raids plus we investigate a lot of murder cases and robbery cases as well. Mentally and physically we have to be very strong so that also helped in regaining my fitness,” she said.
Subhalaxmi works as a forest officer in Odisha, Chandrakar region. “We mostly catch poachers and sandalwood robbers. It is complete field duty so that helps in keeping fit. Sometimes we also get into physical fights with robbers, so I use my rugby techniques to take them out,” she said with a smile.
Sangeeta returned to competitive sport last year when she participated in the 2017 Police Meet in Kolkata. She finished sixth in 100-metre sprint. Subhalaxmi is eager to get on the pitch and prove her calibre. She was selected for the Indian squad after he impressive showing at the zonal events.
“These girls have amazed me. They used to cry looking at the pictures of their children before or after training. Despite the competition in the side, they have been outstanding. They have worked really hard,” said coach Naseer Hussain.
The country’s women’s outfit has already taken part in the rugby 7s and are now eager to test their skills in the tri-nation longer format tournament. Every member in the squad is a trailblazer in their own right, but for Sangeeta and Subhalaxmi, it’s more than just being a part of this team. It’s about proving women athletes, not just in mainstream sport, can achieve their dreams post-motherhood.