From farming to leading K'taka team, Sunita shows way

Sunita N Dhondappanavar now leads the Karnataka women’s blind cricket team. Representative image/Pixabay

Sunita N Dhondappanavar had a 60 feet wall to climb. Well, she didn’t really but that’s how she approaches all things in life. As part of a ‘demo’ event put together by Samarthanam Trust for the specially-abled, where they took their members to show wall climbing, Sunita - who was born with an impaired vision - wasn’t under any obligation to scale the wall. But climb she did. Thrice!

“I saw that she was very active in wall climbing,” says Shikha Shetty, the sports coordinator for Samarthanam. “It’s almost a 60-foot climb, so it was not easy at all. It had small grips, in opposite directions and she climbed the whole thing the first time itself. Three times, she climbed that day in different spots.”

That, in a nutshell, is Sunita’s life, defined by her relentless pursuit to success and her stubborn unwillingness to give up.

Born in Khanapur taulk in Belagavi district as the youngest of five - three sisters and a brother - in a farming household, the iron will was forged early. She falls under class B2 in sporting terms for the visually impaired but she was not destined for a life of silhouettes and restrictions.

She did her schooling in a ‘normal school’ as she puts it. Went to college with the help of Samarthanam in Bengaluru. Won the gold medal in the first-ever Wall Climbing nationals for the visually impaired in Jammu in 2017 and followed that up by becoming the fastest blind marathon runner in the country, a feat that earned her a spot in the Limca Book of World records. If all that wasn’t enough, she now leads the State’s women’s blind cricket team.

Shetty attributes the success to her attitude, ‘the one that comes at birth itself’ as she puts it. Be that as it may, but nature is also conditioned by nurture.

As a child, she would brave heaven and high water to help her father. Her coach wagers that her arm strength, so easily translated into cricket, comes from all those weekends and vacations when she went around, cutting bamboo trees. Of course, it was made all the worse by her condition. 

Her family grows rice and sugarcane, making their living from the earth, always under the mercy of the elements. Rain, at either extremes - were always a concern. The inconsistencies of the harvest always loomed large. “My father isn’t an educated man,” says Sunita. “He first had a low profile job in a sugar factory before getting into full time farming. I would go to the farm to help my dad out during the weekend when I didn’t have to go to school.” 

Her father, Neelkanth, had the helping hand earlier but once her mother Savithri lost her vision in one eye, owing to an unsuccessful operation following a serious bout of dust allergy, there was one less pair of hands. Sunita admits to feeling the guilt that she is no longer there to lend a hand as her burgeoning sports career keeps her busy in Bengaluru. 

Having opted to go to a normal school, the 22-year-old had difficulties there as well.

“When my teachers would write on the board, my classmates didn’t have my condition and they would take notes. This hurt me a lot, that I am not like the others. But I had to manage. I would request my teachers to read it out to me and I would take down notes,” she remarks.

“I always told myself that I had to achieve something and that I will never be dependent on anyone. I wrote all my exams without any help till PUC. I used a scribe only in my degree,” she says proudly.

It’s the same steadfastness that helps her travel alone and take up new activities - such as cricket - with the conviction that she can succeed. The early work she did on the fields helps of course, but it’s her determination that sees it through. “I was an athlete in school so I always ran. But cricket was an entirely new experience. You have to listen to the sound of the ball and connect and that didn’t come easy to me,” she says.

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