13th June 1994 was a day of joy for Shivnath Mahto, an autorickshaw driver, and his wife, Geeta Mahto, a nurse, as they welcomed their daughter Deepika. For a girl born in a lower-income tribal family, not many have projected a bright future. Like other girls in her neighborhood, she was set to marry at a young age and then spent the rest of her life as a housewife.
However, destiny and Deepika had something else in their sight. The love affair of Deepika with archery began in her childhood. She used to watch her father make bows and arrows and soon began practicing with them herself.
The young girl’s skill and passion for the sport quickly became apparent, and she began training at a nearby archery academy in Ranchi. However, the journey was challenging for a girl from a family with poor financial strength. To support the dreams and aspirations of her daughter Shivnath Mahto would sometimes have to sell their belongings, including their television set, to pay for her travel expenses.
As it is said, the tougher the situation, the stronger and more determined you get. Deepika remained determined, and the support and sacrifice of her father were good enough to fuel her motivation. From waking up early in the morning, traveling long distances, and repeating the routine each day, Deepika was putting all she had into the purpose. Due to a shortage of funds, she often had to compete against athletes with access to better equipment and facilities.
Then came the moment which started the rise of Deepika Kumari, the Archer. In 2008 she won a gold medal at the Junior World Cup in Turkey. This win earned her recognition in the archery world. Two years later, the young girl from Jharkhand won 2 gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. This win marked a turning point in her career, and she began to receive financial support from the government and private sponsors.
The stage was set for Deepika as she represented India at the Olympics in 2012. Though she missed a podium finish, she gained valuable experience and continued to improve her skills. The Olympic experience helped her see her shortcomings, resulting in Deepika winning numerous other medals, including a gold at the World Cup in 2013 and a silver at the World Championships in 2015.
2016 she followed it up with a gold medal in the women’s individual recurve event at the 2016 Commonwealth Games held in Gold Coast, Australia. However, she again missed the podium finish in Rio Olympics the same year.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was her movement as she ended the drought of a medal at the mega event and won a bronze medal in the women’s individual recurve. Last year she added 2 gold medals to her medal tally at the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham, England.
For her performance and the glory she bought to the nation, Deepika was awarded Arjuna Award and the country’s fourth-highest civilian award Padma Shri. She also won ‘World Archery Athlete of the Year’ twice, in 2018 and 2019, and was ranked the number 1 archer globally.
A humble and dedicated Deepika expresses her gratitude towards her mentor, Limba Ram, a former Indian archer and a Dronacharya awardee. Limba Ram played a crucial role in Deepika’s early training and development and helped her overcome several challenges.
While she continues to grind herself, eyeing a Gold at the upcoming Paris Olympics in 2024, her story serves as a role model for girls from rural and underprivileged backgrounds.