Indian gymnast Pranati Nayak is aiming to emulate her inspiration, Dipa Karmakar, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games beginning in Gold Coast from April 4. Turning 23 on the day of the preliminary round, Pranati will look to make the finals and emulate Dipa, who won a historic bronze in Glasgow four years ago.
A three-member women's artistic contingent led by Aruna Reddy hopes to fill in the void created by Dipa, who could not get fit in time for the Games.
"I've been training with her for a long time. The way she puts in hard work is really inspiring. Who does not wish to be like Dipa didi? I hope my birthday turns out to be special," Pranati told PTI from New Delhi before leaving for Gold Coast.
Are the nerves getting the better of her?
"Nervous? Not at all, I've been training hard for this day. The first aim will be to secure a place for the finals," said Pranati.
She finished fourth in the vault final at the Asian Gymnastics Championships in Bangkok in May last year.
Pranati has been doing 360 backflip, front flip 180, and has added backflip 720 to her repertoire recently.
"We have a week's time now. If I feel confident then only I will include it during the competition," she said as the team left for Gold Coast early this morning.
"Canada, Belgium will be our strong opponents. I've been seeing videos that are available on YouTube. First aim will be to secure a place in the final. I'm not thinking too far of winning a medal right now."
Second among three daughters of a bus driver from a village in the West Medinipur district, Pranati has left her home as an eight-year-old, slept on the floor inside the Saltlake Stadium, before she was inducted into Sports Authority of India Eastern Centre, Kolkata in 2003.
"I was too small to be allotted a hostel. My father and mother used to come and stay with me in rotation, leaving my little sister at home... For weeks we slept on the floor at the Saltlake Stadium."
It was her childhood coach Minara Begum who stood beside her and even offered her shelter at her Ekbalpur home before she was accommodated at the SAI Hostel.
"I got a hostel on insistence of my coach Minara madam. Whatever I'm now it's because of Minara madam."
Her journey fraught with struggle and hardships, Pranati gradually climbed the ladder of success and bagged three silver and a bronze at the 2015 National Games in Kerala.
The success was a defining moment in her fledgling career as it instilled confidence in her family who would live in a thatched hut in her village in Sabong near Pingla police station in West Medinipur.
"I got about Rs 12 lakh in rewards and gave the money to my father to build a house... He broke down in tears, and cried like a kid! He told me 'I don't have any regret of not having a son now. My three daughters are like my three pillars'."
"Those were the words of confidence that kept me going. Busy in training, I hardly able to visit my home these days. But they understand my sport now and follow with keen interest," the Railway employee said.
She will soon move into a new house.
"We will move to a two-storied house very soon. Hope I will go to live in our new house when I return from Australia," she added.