The success of the likes of Rinku Singh and Yashasvi Jaiswal, born in poverty, but now at stratospheric heights, once again proves the that anything is possible with determination and hard work. Behind the lavish cars and privileged lifestyles of some sportspersons lie untold stories of dedication and grit.
Here, we highlight the stories of five stars who battled hardships and rose to eminence.
Rani Rampal (Hockey): Born in Shahabad Markanda, Haryana, Rampal grew up in a poverty-stricken and underprivileged family that struggled to provide two square meals a day. To meet her nutritional requirements, she had to drink milk diluted with water. Rani's father, a cart-puller, was unable to support her dream of pursuing hockey as a career. Undeterred, Rani started practicing with a broken hockey stick and trained in a salwar kameez instead of a track suit. Despite facing resistance from her family, who believed that girls should focus on household work, Rani's persistence paid off. She convinced her family to let her pursue her passion, promising to accept any consequences if she failed. Rani succeeded in her mission, and is now an Olympian, ex-India captain and the winner of prestigious accolades such as the Padma Shri, Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award and Arjuna Award.
Gabriel Jesus (Football): The Arsenal forward from Brazil is another shining example of an athlete who triumphed over an underprivileged background to achieve stardom. As the youngest of four children in a single-parent family, he faced the absence of his father, who left his mother while she was pregnant and later passed away in a motorbike accident. Gabriel’s mother, Vera Lucia, had her first three children work to contribute to the family's income from the age of 12. However, she recognized Gabriel's talent and allowed him to focus on playing football. Today, he has numerous honours to his name, including four English Premier League titles.
Esteban Ocon (Formula One): The Team Alpine driver was born in Normandy, France. He comes from a mixed Algerian and Spanish heritage. Ocon's father owned a small garage in Evreux, where he sold and repaired cars. During Ocon's early karting career, his parents made significant sacrifices to support their son's racing aspirations. They sold their house, put their jobs on hold, and lived on the road in a caravan to ensure Ocon had the necessary resources and opportunities. At the age of 13, Gravity Sports Management, an agency affiliated with the Renault F1 team, recognized his potential and offered him support to pursue his racing career. In 2014, Ocon garnered global attention when he defeated the now-renowned Max Verstappen to claim the European F3 title.
Deepika Kumari (Archery): The Ranchi-born Deepika's father worked as an auto rickshaw driver, while her mother was a nurse at Ranchi Medical College. Deepika's passion for archery began when she would aim stones at mangoes on trees. At the age of 12, she joined the Tribal Sports Training Academy, where she received three meals a day, which was a luxury for her. Recognizing Deepika's potential, her cousin Vidya Kumari helped her join the Tata Archery Academy in 2006. From that point on, Deepika's determination and talent propelled her to numerous achievements, including a gold medal for India at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the number one ranking in archery in 2012.
Mirabai Chanu (Weightlifting): The Olympic silver medallist has become an inspiring figure in Indian sports. However, her path to success was anything but easy. Born into a family of six children in Manipur, Mirabai faced the challenges of poverty during her childhood. Her father, Saikhom Kriti Singh, worked as a construction worker, while her mother operated a small shop. Mirabai often had to gather firewood to support her siblings, and she would hitch rides with sand-carrying truck drivers to reach her training venue in Imphal. This unwavering determination led her to win numerous medals and honours, including the historic silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.