Published: 29th June 2017
Varsha the Sailor: Here's the story of a 19-year-old, who was the youngest Indian to win an Asian Games medal
Sailor by day, student by night. Varsha Gautham talks about her devotion to sailing
Nineteen-year-old Varsha Gautham is the epitome of looking fear in the eyes. As a child, Varsha had almost drowned. Twice! Her parents felt that it was high time that their daughter learned to swim. While swimming classes give most kids the confidence to step into a pool, it sparked a rather eccentric interest in the then eight-year-old — sailing. And she took to the sport like a duck to water. At the age of 16, Varsha went on to become the youngest Indian to win a medal in the 2014 Asian Games. She was also the first Indian woman to win a medal in sailing.
For Varsha, sailing is the only life she knows. A typical day for her goes something like this — she wakes up early, works out, goes to the sailing club, works on her boat, sails and then returns home. “I have no life outside the sport. It is the only thing I care about,” says the Chennai-born sailor. What else could have prompted her to leave her hometown and settle in Mumbai to dedicate all her time to the sport? “I’ve been living in Mumbai for a while now. I’m practising and honing my skills every day,” she says.
Varsha won the bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games in the women’s 29er event and became the youngest Indian to win an Asian Games medal, at the age of 16
Varsha went from being an amateur sailor to a professional when coach Pete Conway joined the Yatching Association of India in 2011. Until then, these young sailors would only practise on the weekends. But Pete made sure that they practised harder. “The results were immediate and obvious, and now we are where we are. I went on to win an Asian Games medal because of him,” attests Varsha, who confesses that she has no role model, “But I aspire to make a name for myself in this sport so that future generations can look up to me as one.”
Sea queen: For Varsha, there is no life apart from sailing
Now, the inner ‘next door maami’ in us wonders how Varsha’s parents adjusted to their daughter’s lofty dream. Quite well, she says. Her father even joined the sailing club with her to understand the sport. “They are just happy to see me stick to one activity for so long. I tried my hand at dancing and tennis before but quit soon after. But sailing was different. They realised my love for it and they’re okay with me putting aside everything for sailing,” says Varsha, who is a third-year Sociology student at MOP Vaishnav College for Women. “Luckily, I don’t have to attend regular classes as my college authorities have been considerate. I just have to give my final exams,” she adds. Now, how cool is that!