BENGALURU: The past few days have been nothing short of a dream come true for Navnita Gautam. Royal Challengers Bangalore recently announced that the 27-year-old would be joining the players’ support staff as a sports massage therapist, effectively becoming the first woman to be appointed so by any IPL team. “I’ve had this dream to come to India and be the first women to work with a men’s team for over six years now,” says Gautam, who was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, but currently resides in Chandigarh.
It was exactly this aspiration to “break barriers” that led Gautam to come to India in 2017, while going against a lot of people, including her parents. You could say sports has always been an intrinsic part of her life, and interestingly, it was the injuries she faced in her basketball career that led to her interest in sports massage therapy. “It was through those injuries that I understood the importance of having a good sports medicine team. So I decided to pursue my career as an athletic therapist and specialise in massage/soft tissue release,” she explains.
Not many women, however, take up this profession and according to Gautam, it could be due to the rigorous travel schedule and physicality aspect of treating athletes. “The mindset of others could also be a limiting factor. But this is changing, slowly and surely, and I believe more and more women will grow in this profession in the near future,” she adds.
Gautam will start working with the team soon and is looking forward to learning from head physiotherapist Evan Speechly and strength and conditioning coach Shankar Basu on and off the field. An avid follower of the cricket tournament, Gautam recalls how her father would wake her up at 5am in Canada because a match was being telecast on TV. “Every IPL team is amazing but since Bengaluru was my home town when I came to India in 2017, I’m Team RCB all the way! I’m excited to give my best and work endlessly to get players ready for the season,” she says.
During the FIBA Asia Cup in 2017, Gautam was in charge of the rehab of all the players of the India Women’s Basketball team. Calling it an “awesome” experience, she says, “Team India fought all odds and won in the Division B category which created history and moving up to Division A with Australia, Japan and other strong teams. I was privileged enough to be part of the team.”