Every parent wants their kids to do well in school but there are few who encourage their children to take up sports as their career goal. Katya Coelho is one such example who has made her mark in the sports arena by reaching the Asian Games and Olympics and that has become possible due to the sheer support of her parents, especially her father Mr Donald Coleho who trained Katya from the age of 11 and made her India’s top most windsurfer.
“My father is a national windsurfer himself and he trained me from the age of 11,” said Katya. She tells us that this sport is not as popular as other sports. “I used to go and watch my father surfing and competing and I slowly started developing an interest in it. I love the ocean and at a very young age, 2, I learned how to swim. One day I decided to try windsurfing and I told my father about the same.”
According to Katya, after a short training stint in sailing and windsurfing, she was ready for state-level competitions. “In Goa, there are not many others in this arena to compete with and in the women’s category there are none,” she said. Her goal was to reach the state level. “For the nationals, I had tough competition with participants from Chennai, Maharashtra, and Orissa and to tell you the truth, my initial years were not that great.”
“My father used to organise summer camps for kids under the banner of Goa Beach Sports Academy. He loved sports so much and he wanted to give back and get more people involved. So, in the initial stages, my direct competitors were the students of my father.”
Katya tells us that she faced minor issues initially while training in the water but she came over them since her goal was bigger. “I used to get sunburn and rashes on the skin due to excessive heat and it was often painful but the bigger problem that I had faced in this sport was the absence of female competitors which compelled me to take part in the men’s category,” she said adding that as it is an adventure sport, lots of female candidates would take a back seat. “But the times are changing slowly and many female contenders are coming into this sports arena. I want to give the example of the Commonwealth Games where women made their mark by winning major medals.”
Katya has been competing for more than a decade and she has achieved great milestones in that time. When I asked her about how her studies were affected by sports, she said that she is very lucky that her parents gave her this career opportunity. “If you look at kids nowadays, they are under so much pressure to study. I had done my studies at Sharda Mandir and there was a lot of pressure on me but finally, I had to take a break from my studies since I was selected by the Youth Olympics.”
. “Actually, I had applied for leave to appear for the Youth Olympics and at that time our final exams were going on. The school denied my leave for a one-month period as it was not possible and my parents had to take the hard decision to remove me from school because the opportunity in front of me was a once-in-a-lifetime one I feel proud to say that I am the only Goan and Indian who had participated in the Youth Olympics.”
“The Youth Olympics comes once in four years and that step to take me out of school was a necessary one to take as I would have missed that opportunity and regretted it forever. It was a big decision for my parents to remove their child from school but I completed my studies from the Cambridge board (The European School of Goa) which was home-schooling and nowadays, many students are opting for it. After completing my SSC I did my HSSE from Ardee School situated in Sangolda.”
While attending school at Ardee, Katya continued her sports activities. “I used to go to the gym in the morning then go to school, finish by 2 pm eat in the car and then go for training and that was my schedule before the Asian games in 2018. As an athlete, you have to be ready for all kinds of challenges. I used to go to Dona Paula to do my training in windsurfing since the seas in Baga are very rough and this place in Goa is the best place to learn and practice as it’s very calm. Another reason I cannot do it at Calangute is that buying equipment was very expensive and many times I had to remain dependent on second-hand equipment.”
Another major challenge that Katya faced was the lack of support from the Government and the authorities and she had to struggle to get funds from the sports department. “I have not yet received any sponsorship for the equipment I use but hopefully I’ll get it in a couple of months. To date, all the equipment that I have was bought from the prize money that I had received and I had to spend almost all the money and I am still paying the instalments for the loans that I had to take to get the equipment.”
Katya also supports her passion for sports by spending the money made from small businesses that she had engaged in. “I started my own start-up called The Boho Store, here I use recycled fabrics from my mom’s store and make different things from them. I also design the shoes and whatever money I get from that I spend on myself and my equipment,” she said.
In our country, sports is not always considered a profession, but a recreational activity, which is a sad part of our society when they ask a sportsperson what he or she is doing. Katya was also not spared from this social stigma. She joined a fashion design course just for the sake of a certificate and to show society that she is doing something. “I have done a one-year course from JD Institute Panaji. In fact, I had no need to go to Fashion School to learn because my mother is a fashion designer herself and I learned a lot of things from her. The reason I had done the course is due to the social pressure as everyone keeps asking me what am I doing.”
“Besides sports, I am also into painting. I paint and sell my work online,” she said adding that art is something she had learned on her own. “After sailing when I used to come home, I would sit with my paintings and today it has become a source of income for me and I am happy that I am able to fund my passion through this.”
Katya recently won India’s first medal in the IQ Foil Category medal at an Asian championship in Thailand. “No Indian has ever won this medal in the IQ Foil Category and we have very few contenders sailing in this category in our country,” she said. She is now preparing for the Asian Games. “I have already topped the qualifying rounds in India but since the Asian games have been postponed, they will be again doing fresh qualifying rounds. There will be one round in Goa, two in Mumbai and maybe one in Chennai.”
Katya has also been selected to train by the world sailing organisation. “India is a developing country and they wanted to give an opportunity to the contenders but I cannot go there due to my Visa being very expensive. I cannot pay from my pocket and there is no government support. The sports minister, Govind Gawade, helped me a lot with my sponsorship for the Asian Games. Within 15 days of my application, he released the grants.”
Katya believes that the reason she received the grant this time was that she has been vocal about her plight in the media. “I have been giving interviews on various channels and I feel that they have seen the interview and realised that she is really worth sponsoring. There are other sports getting funded regularly but since my sport is rare, it’s not my fault. For India, I have won 15 gold medals and for Goa, I have won two bronze medals and one silver medal.
Katya tells us that to succeed at the Asian Games will depend on her training and for that she had to move out of Goa. “I have already put in the proposal that I want to get trained in Asian countries so that I can properly know my direct competitors. The level at which the other Asian countries are getting training is very high. Thailand spends lots of money on training. My kind of sport is not a team effort. We are competing as singles and we need the best equipment. For example, if I have an old boat, it won’t move as fast as brand-new boat. I have had to use old equipment which brings my morale down.”
Katya now waiting for her prize money to come so that she can plan her next move. “I have submitted all the bills and once I get my remaining money and the prize money it will help me to work towards the Asian Games. Our training cannot stop because once you take a break you have to start from scratch again,” said Katya.
“I really feel that more females should enter sports like this because it gives you a sense of freedom. Here in our tiny state, girls have not been given an opportunity to get into sports and I want to change that. I want to give the message to the youth that you need to be more focused on your life and if you seriously want to set goals, then you need to get away from all types of distractions.”