Dharavi sword champ's mother wins award for backing daughter to pursue niche sport despite struggles

Single mom Vimal Ingle felicitated for backing fencing champ from city slum

Vaibhavi Ingale and her mother at Sunday’s awards

Sometimes it's not just champions who must be celebrated, but their wingmen and women too. In a rare occasion, the mother of a medal-gobbling teenage fencer from Dharavi was felicitated with the Jijamata Award for fighting through hard times and allowing her daughter to pursue what is a niche sport in India.

Vimal Ingale, whose 13-year-old daughter Vaibhavi has won nine medals at the national and state level, all in a span of one year, received the award at an event held at the Rajiv Gandhi District Sports Complex in Dharavi on Sunday. She was among 70 recipients.

Despite an early breakthrough in her fencing career, Vaibhavi only started learning the sport two years ago. Her journey, however, has been frought with struggle. The fencer lost her father, Mallinath, a teacher from Solapur in 2006 after he lost the battle to throat cancer. "After my husband passed away, we moved to Dharavi, where my parents are based,” said Vimal. “Since he was a school teacher, I receive a monthly pension of R10,000. I try to manage all expenses in that amount and avoid taking financial help from anyone."

Vaibhavi Ingale (13), her mother Vimal and coach Anand Waghmare (left) at the award function

Vimal says she will continue to put up a fight and encourage her daughter to excel in the niche sport. “Her fencing coach, Anand Waghmare, has been kind. He ensures that I do not spend when he takes her for tournaments outside the city,” said Vimal.

The teenager was introduced to fencing by accident. "In 2015, during the summer vacation, I had come to the Rajiv Gandhi District Sports Complex to join rhythmic gymnastics. Waghmare sir, who was conducting a camp there, asked if I wanted to try fencing instead," she recalls.

Vaibhavi Ingale (13), her mother Vimal and coach Anand Waghmare (left) at the award functionVaibhavi Ingale (13), her mother Vimal and coach Anand Waghmare (left) at the award function

Vaibhavi, a Class VIII student of St Joseph's High School, Bandra, has no memory of her father. "My nana (maternal grandfather) Sidram Narayankar, means the world to me. He doesn't let me feel that I don't have a father," Vaibhavi said.

Interestingly, she continues to practise rhythmic gymnastics in her free time. "The exercises build my flexibility which helps with fencing,” said Vaibhavi, who follows a strict diet to keep fit. “I avoid eating out. I have given up on junk food, especially vada pav, ice-cream and my favourite, paani puri. My diet includes boiled vegetables and chicken. Even when I have home-cooked food, I ensure it's less oily and spicy," she adds.

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