The Olympics is the ultimate dream for most professional athletes around the world, and 21-year old Indian Softball player Jede Radhika, is no different.
Radhika, who is from a village called Somana Palli, near Tadipatri in the Anantapur district, is arguably one of the best female Softball players the region has ever produced. She has represented India thrice at junior level and has now been selected for the senior team in the upcoming Asian University Championship 2018 in China in October.
In Anantapur, Radhika is part of the Softball program, which is supported by the Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA), an initiative by the Rural Development Trust (RDT). ASA is a development program that reaches out to close to 9,000 children on a weekly basis and provides them with infrastructure, education, coaching and nutrition.
Born into a family of farmers, Radhika’s parents were never interested in her playing Softball or any other sports for that matter. They were determined for her to do well at school and focus on her academics. She went to school in the mornings, but every evening, she would find an excuse to get to Softball practice. She began playing Softball when she was 12 years old and has never looked back since.
“I had to argue with my parents to go to practice everyday. They only wanted me to study, and my marks went down at school once I started playing. But I knew what I wanted and always spent my time after school playing Softball. “ She said, reflecting on her childhood.
She successfully managed to get through school, while also excelling on the pitch. But the turning point came in 2014, when she attended a National selection camp in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. At the camp, Radhika got selected to play for India at a junior tournament in Singapore. This opened her parent’s eyes, and helped them realize that Softball could in fact be a fruitful path for their daughter.
“They never supported my interest in sports, but that changed once I got selected for India. Now, my Papa has only one goal for me, the 2020 Olympics in Japan.”
Currently, Radhika is in the final year of her Bachelor’s degree in Statistics, but academics has always been second on her list of priorities. She is purely focused on getting to the Olympics. Getting selected for the Senior Indian National Softball team for the Asian University trophy in China is a step in the right direction, but there is a lot of work still to do.
An aspect that both Radhika and her coach, S. Obilesh, agree on is that she needs to get fitter and practice more regularly.
“Softball is all about fitness, and that is something we need to work on,” they both said, almost in tandem. “When I played against Japan in the World Championships in the United States, you could see the difference. They were just so fast,” added Radhika.
S.Obilesh, a former Softball player himself, has been Radhika’s coach for close to a decade now. When asked about what makes Radhika stand out as a special talent, he said: “Her focus. During a match, she doesn’t make mistakes. Her concentration is always at a 100%.”
Radhika, an expert in fielding and slugging (batting) also recognizes that there are other aspects off the field that she needs to work on, before she is truly ready to compete at the Olympics.
“When I first joined the Indian team, no one spoke Telegu there, so it was hard for me at the start. I was just very quiet. But I know that I need to work on learning Hindi and English so that I can communicate better with my teammates and interact with other people when I go abroad for tournaments.”
Even at 21, Radhika has a lot of experience at international tournaments. At a junior level, she has already travelled to China, the United States and Singapore with the Indian National Team. She thoroughly enjoyed these experiences and really values them. Though it may just be the beginning of a potentially very successful career, these are opportunities she owes to sport and she acknowledges that. She appreciates the influence that sports has had on her life, not only in terms of opportunities to see the world outside Anantapur and to experience different cultures, but also on her own personality.
“Without sports, I would have just been studying all my life and would not be the same person I am today. Sports has taught me a lot about sincerity, time management and respect,” said Radhika.
Radhika will now attend a National coaching camp in Indore before returning to Anantapur for the second leg of the camp. After this, she will be heading to China to make her senior debut for the Indian National team. This is the first step in a long journey to realize her and every other athlete’s ultimate dream of reaching the Olympic games.