Hyderabad sailors Ananya Chouhan and Alekhya Maharaju have been recruited into the first-ever Indian teams to participate in the J80 category in the World Championship in Spain.
Having picked up sailing at a young age of just 11, Ananya states that this achievement is as a result of several years of hard work. “I started sailing at 11 and fell in love with it almost instantly. At 12, I was the youngest player participating in a tournament that was held in Kochi after which, I participated in several sailing championships, and my love for the sport grew manifold. Even my school (Gitanjali Devshala) was very supportive of my pursuit, and that gave me the push that helped me pull it off,” Ananya recalled.
“I am thrilled about the upcoming championship! I have won international tournaments earlier, yes, but I’ve never sailed out of Asia and competed against world teams,” shared Ananya, who made it through the selection trials conducted by the Royal Madras Yacht Club (RMYC) in association with the Yachting Association of India (YAI).
Ananya has been recruited into a mixed team of six sailors. The team comprises two girls and one boy from Chennai, two boys from Mumbai, and Ananya from Hyderabad. The 18-year-old Ananya, who is currently in the first year of her studies in mechanical engineering in Vellore, says she has been preparing for the imminent event in Chennai. “As part of my preparation leading up to the event, I sail for up to four hours and work out at the gym for about an hour every day. Also, Chennai happens to be the only place in India with J80 boats are available, so that is where I practice with the rest of the team,” she said, adding that she had been practising in Hussain Sagar while in Hyderabad.
Apparently, Ananya was inspired by her father’s friend, Commander Dilip Donde, who happens to be the first-ever Indian to set a record for a solo circumnavigation of the globe on a sailboat.
Alekhya Maharaju, on the other hand, is bracing for her comeback to sailing after a hiatus of nine years. She is part of the all-women team that will be competing in the J80 category at the World Championship in Spain.
Interestingly, Alekhya, who has already won several national and international championships, is now a doting mother. She states that her passion for the sport is what has brought her back to sailing. “I remember how excited I was when I started learning the sport at the Secunderabad Sailing Club. I was 10 years old then. The same child-like excitement has brought me back to the sport,” Alekhya recalls.
“I’ve been passionate about sailing since forever, so when I asked my husband for his opinion on my participation, he welcomed my decision. He believes it is an ideal opportunity for me to stage a comeback. In preparation, I’ve been hitting the gym and practicing sailing for four hours every day,” Alekhya said.
Alekhya wants to break the myths associated with marriage with her comeback. “I’ve noticed that many young girls and women believe they cannot fulfil their dreams and pursue their passions after marriage, and I want to prove them wrong,” said the 28-year-old sailor. “When I recently resumed practice, I was apprehensive about having to start from scratch. Thankfully, however, my past experience as a sailor help me pick up from exactly where I had left.”
Apart from the gruelling practice sessions and shuttling between Hyderabad and Chennai, staying away from her three-year-old daughter is another challenge that Alekhya has been preparing to deal with. “I’ve also been preparing mentally to stay away from my daughter. I am currently practising in Chennai and have to fly to Spain a few weeks before the tournament begins to acclimatise to the conditions. My grandparents will look after my baby girl while I’m away.”
As a water sports enthusiast, Alekhya took to sports at the age of 13 and is now the only woman from Hyderabad in the women’s team of six, the other five being from Chennai. While sailing itself is a niche and fairly expensive sport, Alekya laments that finding female sailors is even more daunting. “It’s been a tough task, finding women who love sailing. However, I have come to find them in Chennai,” Alekhya said, adding, “The team is looking to raise funds for the travel. I understand that our nation is largely crazed about cricket, but it’ll be nice to have some financial support for alternative sports like sailing. Perhaps then we will be able to pursue our passion and make it big,” Alekhya concludes.