Youth Column: Breaking barriers: Grit and determination define these rising young South Asian athletes


While the global sports scene is dominated by some regions of the world, South Asian athletes have been making waves, but feel invisible compared to the recognition others receive. Some of this low profile is due to a lack of resources, access to visibility, and continued pressure from society. Nevertheless, some talented South Asian athletes who played an enormous role in the field of sports are highlighted here. These are four notable athletes from South Asia namely, Rajeshwari Ria Kumari, Akshdeep Singh, Balraj Panwar, and Ashwini Ponnappa Machimanda. These athletes are resourceful and are striving actors for the country in the field of Sports like badminton and hockey.

The journey of these athletes serves as a powerful reminder that true success is not solely defined by accolades or medals, but by the dedication, passion, and resilience exhibited along the way. Just because they may not actively seek recognition, it doesn’t diminish how much they deserve it. Their stories illuminate the transformative power of sports in breaking barriers and empowering individuals to reach their full potential.

Rajeshwari Ria Kumari. PHOTO: X @RiaKumari

Born on December 10, 1991, in Gwalpatri, Rajeshwari Ria Kumari is a model of excellence in both sports shooting and business. Raised in India, she started her career as a trap shooter. She has won numerous medals in domestic and international tournaments, making her one of the best trap shooters in the world. In the 2022 Asian Games, she won the silver medal in the Women’s trap team event at Hangzhou, showing her skill and commitment on the big stage.

Kumari is not only an athlete, but she is also a co-founder of a luxury Indian clothing & embroidery brand, Saurab Rajeshwari. Her entrepreneurial journey demonstrates her versatility and drive to excel in multiple areas. Not only does her success serve as an inspiration for aspiring athletes, but it also serves as a reminder of the importance of following your passions and harnessing talent in multiple areas.

Akashdeep Singh. PHOTO: X @SportsArena

Akashdeep Singh, a promising athlete from Punjab, has emerged as a trailblazer in the discipline of racewalking. Armed with determination and dedication, Singh has shattered records and left an indelible mark on the Indian athletics scene. Holding the Indian National record in the 20km race walk, Singh’s journey to success has been characterized by relentless hard work and a never-say-die attitude. Singh’s gold medal win at the Indian Race Walking Championships in Ranchi underscored his dominance in the sport and paved the way for his qualification for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. His achievements serve as a source of inspiration for aspiring athletes across South Asia, highlighting the transformative power of sports in changing lives and breaking barriers.

Balraj Panwar. PHOTO X @balraj_989

Balraj Panwar’s story is a demonstration of resilience in the face of struggle. Hailing from a humble background in Haryana, Panwar has overcome numerous challenges to become a formidable rower. His journey, marked by personal loss and financial struggles, is a testament to his unwavering determination and resilience. Panwar’s bronze medal win at the Asia-Oceania Olympic Qualification rowing competition not only secured India’s first Olympic quota in rowing for the 2024 Paris Olympics but also served as a testament to his talent and perseverance. Despite facing setbacks, Panwar’s early lead in the race showcased his tenacity and grit, inspiring millions across South Asia to pursue their dreams against all odds.

Ashwini Ponnappa. PHOTO X @P9Ashwini

Ashwini Ponnappa Machimanda’s journey in badminton is a testament to her skill and determination. Hailing from Bangalore, Ponnappa has left an indelible mark on the international badminton circuit, partnering with Jwala Gutta to achieve numerous milestones. Their partnership, marked by gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and bronze medals at the BWF World Championships, has propelled Indian badminton onto the global stage. Ponnappa’s success not only reflects her exceptional talent but also serves as a source of inspiration for aspiring athletes, especially women, across South Asia. Her journey underscores the power of sports in empowering individuals and breaking down barriers.

The achievements of Rajeshwari Ria Kumari, Akshdeep Singh, Balraj Panwar, and Ashwini Ponnappa Machimanda highlight the importance of recognizing and celebrating the contributions of South Asian athletes to the global sporting landscape. Despite facing challenges such as limited resources and a lack of visibility, these athletes have shown exceptional talent, determination, and resilience. By acknowledging their achievements, we not only pay tribute to their dedication and commitment but also challenge stereotypes and promote inclusivity in sports. Moreover, celebrating the success of South Asian athletes serves as a reminder of the talent present in the region and encourages greater investment in sports infrastructure, training facilities, and grassroots development programs.

What distinguishes South Asian athletes, like Kumari, Singh, Panwar, and Ponnappa, is their emphasis on karma rather than immediate reward. Their focus on the process, on continuous improvement, and dedication to their craft, sets them apart. While they may not always receive the recognition they deserve, their commitment to their sport and their communities remains unwavering. Their success underscores the importance of fostering an environment that nurtures and supports aspiring athletes, irrespective of their background. By celebrating the achievements of South Asian athletes, we challenge stereotypes and promote inclusivity in sports, while also inspiring future generations to pursue their dreams relentlessly.

Kavya Bhatia is a student at Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City.




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