Her love of sport has led to her working closely with the sports industry along with motivating youngsters to preserve and follow their dreams. “I see myself not as a professional, but as a person. I am strong enough to deal with anything life can throw at me and I’m 100% sure I would not be the person I am today without sports,” she says.
For her, India is transforming into a booming sporting nation, with the mechanism in place to nurture future talent, and she uses her knowledge and experiences to help others, particularly youngsters or those with confidence issues.
A trained scuba diving instructor, Kuhelika visits the Andaman Islands each year. She relates an anecdote about how she channelled her fear into learning deep sea diving. As a kid, Kuhelika was afraid of the water. Even as the family travelled to places like Mauritius and Malaysia, she would wait behind as they splashed into the water. Finally, an adult Kuhelika resolved to overcome what she terms a ‘fear psychosis.’
She travelled to the Andaman Islands and, without diving even once before, paid a hefty sum and signed up to become a dive master. “Why would I pay so much and go there? Because I did not give myself the chance to back out. I still remember my first dive. It was awfully scary initially and then I got over it,” she says.
With her keen love of adventure sports, Kuhelika has often done activities many would cringe at. Snowboarding, paragliding, rafting and kayaking are a few of them. A question she often receives is, “Aren’t you afraid anymore?”
“Yes,” she replies immediately, “I still feel fear but I don’t see it as a deterrent. It gives me the strength to do whatever I want. It’s something natural and I’ve accepted that I have the ability to overcome it. The moment you realise what you can do with it, it’s extraordinary. ”
Adventure sports have changed the way Kuhelika sets her goals. “It’s not easy climbing a 6,000-metre peak. The moment you cross 5,500 meters, your body starts failing and your mind is playing games on you. In retrospect, people enjoy pushing their limits and body to achieve a goal.
“For every day, you have a goal to achieve,” she says, “and when you reach the summit, the pinnacle, it’s not the end because you have to come back down. You have to make smaller goals to plan your expedition. Life is the same way. Even in my personal life, I now have daily, weekly goals. Smaller goals take you to bigger goals.”
Kuhelika might lead an active lifestyle now but five years ago, she was unable to walk. She recounts getting seriously injured during an Indian football team camp, tearing five muscle groups in her right knee. She felt devastated. A naturally active person, she found the forced stillness unbearable.
Told she wouldn’t be able to play football again, she decided to explore other activities. The road to recovery was slow as she pushed herself to walk, and gradually picked up a host of other sports. Today, while not completely recovered, she is able to do nearly anything she wants. “Nothing comes easy. If you really want to do something, keep at it, work at it. More than successes you’ll have to learn to convert your failures to successes.”
Addressing the bigger cause with equal vim
“I see the issues facing us, like women’s safety and women empowerment. I work with people who have low self-confidence and ask myself these questions, ‘Why are these people short-selling themselves? Why don’t they have the exposure that I have? Why don’t they see what I see in them?’ These are the small things that keep me going. I want to empower people and help them see who they really are,” she says.
She works with school students, conducting leadership and confidence building programmes through adventure sports. Her work often requires her to go a city or a remote site for a day or ten days, depending on the programme. “I remember an incident a year back. We were doing a camp in the mountains of Uttarakhand for around 50 kids. it was a programme designed for physically fit individuals. One of the kids was visually challenged but he deserved the experience, so we instructors got together and helped him rappel from a height of 210 feet. After, I saw the excitement and amazement he felt. That was all I needed.”
If there is one thing she would like to say, it’s actually directed towards parents. “Whether it is a guy or a girl, expose your children to sports really early. Engage them in a variety of competitive sports where their growth is monitored regularly. Kids today will benefit from an increase in willpower and concentration along with becoming physically stronger,” she says.