Paddling to win

Former National Games champion V V Sunil, now a clerk with the sales tax dept, is running a free kayaking and canoeing training centre, reports Biju E Paul

Published: 24th October 2021 05:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th October 2021 05:24 AM   |  A+A-

Kayaking and canoeing training in progress on the Pampa in Kainakari | Express

Express News Service

ALAPPUZHA:  Nestled among the backwaters of Lower Kuttanad, the village of Kuppapuram wakes up every day to the ripples created by the oars of young kayakers and canoers. At 5am, children aged between 8 and 18 gather on the banks of the Pampa for their daily exercises.

The warm-up done, the group moves to the small, locally-made country boats. Former National Games gold medallist V V Sunil, a clerk with the sales tax department in Alappuzha, is training them. For free. Besides training youngsters on the finer points of rowing, he seeks to instil a goal in them to achieve something in life. 

Sunil launched the initiative in 2014, and now has 64 trainees. Proving that his efforts are on the right track, 20 of them have been selected to the state teams that will participate in the 9th dragon boat championship and the 31st canoeing and kayaking championships slated to be held in Himachal Pradesh from October 24 to 28. To support his earnest endeavour, the villagers have helped form an academy -- Opalav Water Sports Academy. 

“My village is backward compared to other regions of the state,” Sunil says. “People live on the outer bunds of paddy polders in less than five cents of land. Flood and other disasters are recurring events. And a majority among us earn a living by working in paddy fields or by fishing.”

Given the circumstances, many parents send their children to school after suffering much pain and hardship, the 45-year-old points out. “They earn postgraduate degrees and higher qualifications, but a financially secure job remains a hurdle too high for most of the poor. That’s why I thought of started my training centre.”

His own achievements and job did not bring any significant improvement in his financial condition. “So I decided to train my two daughters in canoeing and kayaking. Two other girls from the neighbourhood too joined. Later, many children and their parents evinced interest,” Sunil says.

B K Vinod, a former member of the Kainakari panchayat, says that 20 of Sunil’s former trainees have received jobs with the Kerala Police and are awaiting appointment orders. “After Sunil started training children, the parents came together to help him. We collected money and purchased equipment, and sourced second-hand boats for training. A new boat (kayak or canoe) costs around Rs 40,000. The oars too require similar amounts. So we bought one new boat and three old boats,” says Vinod, the secretary of Opalav Academy Parents’ Association.

When Sunil competed in the 1997 National Games in Manipur, his family was struggling financially. “Fighting against all odds, I won six medals... three gold and silver each. The success paved the way to a government job in the sales tax department,” he recalls.


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