April 2021 | 702 words | 3-minute read
Born in a middle-class home in Kalinganagar, Odisha, Jyoti Priyadarshini grew up spending most of her days doing the usual things Indian children do — play a little, study hard and stay true to the path their parents have planned for them.
All this changed, however, when Jyoti went to the 9th grade. A bright student, Jyoti signed up for karate and taekwondo just for a lark. Surprisingly, she not only excelled at school and inter-school matches, but also participated and won at the zonal level.
Her coach and mentor from that time encouraged her to continue practicing the sports, advising her, ‘If a career in sports is on your mind, then you should take up kickboxing’.
Training in kickboxing
Paying heed, Jyoti started training in kickboxing. She would practise before school hours and stay back after school to train in kickboxing, and soon she was participating and winning medals at the zonal and district level championships.
“My parents were not very supportive to begin with. They wanted me to focus on my studies but after I started winning medals for kickboxing, they let me pursue it,” says Jyoti, a junior engineer at Tata Steel, Kalinganagar.
“Sports means a lot to me. It supports me emotionally, mentally and physically.”
Jyoti enrolled at the Pumas International and Life Gym, a martial arts school in Bhubaneswar, where she practised for 3-4 hours for a couple of days in a week while preparing for the School Game Federation on India’s National Kickboxing Championship in the Under-19 category.
“Sports means a lot to me. It supports me emotionally, mentally and physically,” says Jyoti, adding, “Earlier I would have a lot of mental stress regarding my studies as both my parents and teachers would ask me to focus on my studies rather than the game. But once I started winning medals, my self-confidence improved. I even started getting better grades at school.”
Balancing studies and kickboxing training wasn’t easy for Jyoti. It meant maintaining discipline and training in time management. “As I started practising and winning matches and earning medals, I started to believe that I could be successful if I played this sport professionally,” says Jyoti, who married Navneet Kumar a former colleague at Tata Steel.
Joining Tata Steel
However, the decision to take up kickboxing as a career was a tough decision. She knew that after finishing college and landing a job, it would be difficult to continue practising. “Somewhere at the back of my mind, it rankled that sports won’t provide me with the financial security, a job could,” reminisces Jyoti.
In 2013, Jyoti joined the electrical department of the Tata Steel Coke plant in Kalinganagar as a junior engineer. Since joining Tata Steel, Jyoti has participated in several zonal, regional, state level and national level tournaments and won several medals.
"Every time I win, I receive congratulatory messages and appreciation from my team and seniors at Tata Steel...they even honour me at internal company events — all this has boosted my confidence and improved my performance."
“From the beginning, Tata Steel has supported me in pursuing my dream as a kickboxer,” says Jyoti. On a special request, Jyoti finishes an early shift on Saturdays so that she can reach Bhubaneswar in 3-4 hours and train at the Pumas International Centre over the weekend and head back on Monday mornings. Tata Steel sanctions leaves so that Jyoti can participate in training and tournaments.
“The encouragement and support I get is heartening. Every time I win, I receive congratulatory messages and appreciation from my team and seniors at Tata Steel. It makes me happy when I’m featured in the company newsletter, and they even honour me at internal company events — all this has boosted my confidence and improved my performance,” says Jyoti, adding, “My husband and family are also very supportive and encourage me to scale newer heights. I feel lucky and blessed to have so much support.”
Recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Pratibha Puraskar and the Chief Minister’s Merit Award, Jyoti feels honoured to have received the award from Mr Naveen Patnaik in 2007. She says it was a turning point of her life because it reaffirmed her decision to make a career in sports.
On maternity leave for now, going forward, Jyoti intends to continue participating in kickboxing events at the international level and represent her state, country, family and Tata Steel and make everyone proud.