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It was in South Asian Federation Games 1991 that Nepali sportswomen were first decorated with a gold medal. Out of two gold medals, Gita Chhetri Shah won Nepal’s first gold in the table tennis team event along Sijarin Shah in Sri Lanka. Coming from a family where no one had ever tried the sport, Gita considers table tennis her destiny. “I have several stories to share today. I am a storyteller for many. But my children don’t believe that I was a national player and had won several accolades,” she laughs. When it comes to table tennis, she never misses any opportunity to visit Lainchaur, the place from where it all started. “I have never been so interested in anything as much as this game,” she shares. A degree holder in Public Administration, Gita was also a sports journalist. She has written various articles for Asmita Patrika.
In conversation with WOW’s Ankita Jain, the national sports star recalls her time in sports.
Excerpts from the interview:

How did your journey as an athlete begin?

I never wanted to be a sportsperson. Everything started falling in place after I first held the table tennis racket in 1982. My first experience was horrible. I didn’t even touch the ball once during that 30 minute game. I was in college then. The second day, I had made up my mind to perform better. This way I learned the game. My defeat on the very first day of the game inspired me to conquer it. And I did. The same year I got qualified for Asian Games held in New Delhi. This way how my journey as a sportswoman began. After I won the gold medal in 1991, I decided to complete my Masters degree. The last game I played was in the year 1994 for Asian Games held in China. Later, I got married in 1999 and my sports career came to an end. To reflect upon my journey is overwhelming. Today, I don’t regret giving up a game I grew to love and becoming an ordinary face in the crowd.

Was your decision to take up sports as a career supported?

My family played a huge role in making me who I am today. Their undying love and support even to this day helps me overcome most of my fears. Patriarchy has always been a challenge for most women in this country and I am part of the fight too. I needed to show the world that women are no less than men.

Did your gender stand in the way of public acknowldgement?

Society believes that women should only partake in conventional roles such as being a mother, sister, wife and daughter and to stay sheltered within the confines of a house. But the same mother, sister or daughter could be so much more and they can contribute to the nation if given the opportunity and support. I tell all young girls facing these issues to not give up hope and to stay determined in what they believe in and to work hard to be their own support system. I won a gold medal when there was no internet. Today in the era of internet, women are more powerful, independent and can opt for sports without second thought. Also, players can learn different styles through digitalisation.

Do you think that marriage affects a woman’s career?

No matter how supportive the family is, there’s always a point in life where you have to choose between family and career. Sports as a career requires dedication and practice. It’s not like a 9-5 job; it’s about representing your country. And when I knew I wouldn’t be able to do justice, I quit. Also, three decades ago, you couldn’t merely survive on sports.

Please comment on the government’s role in encouraging women in sports.

When we won in 1991, we celebrated in Sri Lanka. But when we landed in our country carrying those medals, something was lacking. We deserved more than we received. Further, we were not invited to the torch rally for the recent South Asian Games. We got a call only after a daily newspaper reported on this. If these little things were given importance, we would think twice before quitting the sport. A player should get all the respect no matter the gender. When any national player represents their country, that person gives their best. It’s all about the country then. It is easy to criticise them over their performance but far more difficult to walk in their shoes.

Would you like to see your children representing the country?

My son is keen about table tennis. I am really looking forward to getting him the best training but first he must complete his studies.