The year was 2000. Karnam Malleswari from erstwhile Andhra Pradesh had just become the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal, and the only Indian to win a medal at the Sydney Olympics. Upon her return home after bagging the bronze, the weightlifter was honoured by then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu in Hyderabadâ€™s Gachibowli stadium. Among the thousands of people gathered there were young Inturi Rekha and her sister Sundari. It was at that moment, inspired by Malleswariâ€™s historic victory, that the then 12-year-old Rekha decided that she too would become a sportsperson and bring laurels to her country, no matter what.
Rekha immediately started training to become a weightlifter, and even participated in a competition. But months after she began her training, she sustained an injury to her shoulder and was told that she would no longer be able to do weightlifting. But instead of letting this affect her dream, she decided to take up powerlifting, which involves lifting heavy weights in one motion as opposed to two, upon advice from her coach.
â€śSince then, after a yearâ€™s training, powerlifting has become part of my life. I was selected for several district and state level competitions, and also won the Inter Collegiate Powerlifting Championship conducted in Narasaraopet, while playing on behalf of Acharya Nagarjuna University in the sub-junior category in 2007,â€ť Rekha tells TNM.
In 2005, Rekha got married at the age of 18. She had three children and got back into form, participating in many national level championships all the while supporting herself by working as a fitness trainer. In 2019, she separated from her abusive husband, started raising her children on her own, and managed to bring her career back on track.
Now, in 2021, Rekha has been selected for an international powerlifting championship to be held in Moscow, Russia scheduled to take place soon, given the COVID-19 situation there.
â€śAfter 10 years, I represented Telangana and won the title of Strong Woman of India in 2021. This is usually bagged by Railway teams. Iâ€™m so proud that I could achieve this feat,â€ť says Rekha.
But despite winning many national level medals, she says that she faced a lot of discouragement from society. â€śPeople ask me why I need to be in sports at this age and with three children to look after; they try to kill my passion. But what they donâ€™t understand is that if I win, I can give a much better life to my daughters.â€ť
She also points out that there are many talented players like her who are struggling to make ends meet without any support or recognition. â€śWe donâ€™t have any job security. Many middleclass people choose sports so that it would lead to government jobs. If at least national level winners are given such jobs, we can concentrate on the sport. But there is no such protocol in place, every time itâ€™s a struggle,â€ť says Rekha.
She further says that there is no proper infrastructure for players in powerlifting. â€śWe only have the LB Stadium for practice, here players from across categories practise. We donâ€™t even get much space as itâ€™s crowded. And there is only one male coach available,â€ť Rekha rues.
Added to this, Rekha also faces a dire financial situation, and two of her daughters had to stop going to school. â€śDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, I was not in a position to afford online classes from the private schools they were studying in. As a result, I had to stop their studies,â€ť she says.
Rekha hopes that if she is able to go to the Moscow competition and win, she can provide a better life for her family. She is also planning to train her daughters and other girls in powerlifting, to empower them.
Inturi Rekha, #Telangana's Mary Kom needs our support!!â€” Spurthi #WomensCommissionMatters (@SpurthiKolipaka) October 25, 2021
A professional, powerlifter, 2-time title receiver of 'Strong woman of #India', mother of 3 girl children, Rekha's passion towards her sport is commendable!
Help her reach Moscow for international championship! pic.twitter.com/jzJrq7UhaJ
However, Rekha is now running from pillar to post to get financial support, as she lost her sponsor due to hurdles in their business. Chakradhar, a board member of the NGO Donâ€™t Waste Food Foundation, has helped her reach national level championships in the past. But with the pandemic, their business has been hit as well, and Rekha needs support to reach Moscow. She needs about Rs 6 lakh, which includes the cost of registration, powerlifting kits, flight charges, food and accommodation.
If you would like to help, find Rekhaâ€™s details below:
For bank transfer:
Read: Junior docs at Hyderabad hospital stage 'helmet' protest after fan falls on colleague