Breaking My Barriers

"Don’t listen to those people telling you that you can’t"

Every time I have tried to do something in my life people around me have told me not to do it.

They didn’t see any hope, they didn’t think there was a chance, they didn’t see a future in what I wanted to do.

I don’t blame them for it. Society can be like that.

But every time I look at my medals and every time I win a new one, it reminds me that anything is possible. It motivates me. It keeps me going.

Where I grew up when a woman is pregnant everyone prays it will be a boy.

If it is they celebrate and, if it isn’t, everyone is quite muted.

It was difficult to see that kind of behavior but I hope that, by the time I’m finished, that won’t be the case anymore.

My name is Rupa. And this is my story.

I found football quite late in my life. When I was young I used to do a lot of chores and all I knew was going from home to school and from school to home. That was my life.

At school I would see people playing football but I never got the chance to take part. I would watch from the sidelines.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I first heard of OSCAR Foundation from a friend.

I’ll never forget the first time I went. Barefooted and in my regular clothes. I had no idea that girls wear shorts and play and there are special kits and boots!

But when I started I could not kick a ball. I was so bad.

I used to think ‘this isn’t for me. It’s too difficult. I can’t do it’.

But I found that, at the Kick Like a Girl sessions, I was encouraged every step of the way. There was always someone there to say, ‘no, you CAN do it’.

Without that support I don’t know if I’d be where I am today and, as I continued, every idea I had about what girls can and can’t do was broken. I was free.

Here a lot of families do not want their girls to leave the house so they never get the chance to be fit and realise their ambitions.

But I learned very quickly that there is a world out there and we can do whatever we want in it.

At OSCAR you learn a lot of life skills. I know a lot of people take them into other areas of their lives, into their work, into their families, into everything.

This is true for me too but, I have to say, for me sports isn’t just something that has helped me in other areas of my life.

Sport IS my life.

When I went to OSCAR I learned how to train my body, how to take care of it, how to stretch, how to warm up and how to get fit.

Now I am a semi-professional long-distance runner. My fitness is my life and it has opened many doors.

But it has been a long journey to get here.

I come from a very poor family. I didn’t have any money and when I started with OSCAR I had to walk an hour just to get to train.

But I was always determined. Even when it came to running competitions I would figure out a way to pay the entrance fee because I knew if I won a medal I would win that money back.

That’s how I saw it. I entered the race knowing I had no choice but to win a medal. That’s why I tell people to follow what they want to do.

Don’t listen to those people telling you that you can’t.

For me that goal is to one day become a police officer. I know there are many challenges ahead and many obstacles in my path but I know that I can do it.

Because of what I learned at OSCAR I already earned a place in the Home Guard and I did that after winning a lot of the fitness assessments.

It’s funny, the assessments were so grueling. So difficult. And on the day of the assessments I also had a big race so I had to finish these challenges and then go and run in a long distance race!

I’d love to say I won that day but it wasn’t to be – though I did manage to break my personal best.

Since then I’ve worked providing security on Mumbai’s trains and, more recently, managing families at COVID quarantine centres here in India.

It has been a difficult and scary time but I felt I had a duty to help my city when it needed me.

But I would never have had the opportunity to help if I hadn’t found OSCAR and if I hadn’t pushed myself every step of the way.

I hope that I can show other young girls what’s possible and, if I haven’t done that yet, then I want to say to them: Enjoy your existence. Be proud to be a girl and you can reach whatever heights that you aim for.