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Olympian Nadia Comaneci helps young Indian duo with viral video score gymnastics scholarships

September 16, 2019 - 3:07 pm
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(KOLKATA, India) -- Two children from India, have been promised gymnastics scholarships from the Sports Authority of India after a video of them doing cartwheels and flips on their way to school went viral on social media and was shared by five-time Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci.

The video, which captured Jashika Khan, 11, and Mohammad Azajuddin, 12, was recorded by their dance coach, Shekhar Rao, founder of Eternities Dance Academy in Kolkata, India.

For the last five years, Rao has offered free dance training to children in the city who cannot afford to pay for lessons.

"This is awesome," Comaneci tweeted on Aug. 29 after seeing the video.

A day later, Kiren Rijiju, the Indian minister of state for youth affairs and sports, shared Comaneci's post, saying that he wanted to be introduced to the kids.

Jashika told ABC News on Friday that she could not believe that Comaneci, her inspiration, had seen and shared the video on Twitter. Jashika said she was now looking forward to starting her gymnastics career.

The kids are currently in the enrollment process, submitting paperwork and medical records, according to Reshma Khatoon, Jashika's mother. If approved, they will be able to formally start training with the Sports Authority of India.

"I am a huge fan of Nadia Comeneci and I want to meet her and be like her," Jashika said. "I want to go to the Olympics one day and make my country proud."

In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, Comaneci said that she was surprised that her tweet went viral but said that she is happy the Sports Authority of India has stepped up to help the two children.

"I thought the video was so cool and spontaneous -- two kids going to school with their backpacks and then they throw in a couple of gymnastics skills," Comaneci said. "I just want to wish them good luck, enjoy what they do and be happy, and I hope I get to meet them at some point."

Rao, the children's dance coach, told ABC News on Thursday that he felt there was something special about Jashika and Mohammad from the moment he started giving them dance lessons four years ago.

"I knew from the beginning that these kids were very talented," Rao told ABC News. "Something that would take anyone else a week to learn, they could learn in an hour."

Khatoon told ABC News that her family has always struggled to put food on the table and that the family often was unable to buy school supplies for Jashika and her two siblings. But now, she said, she is happy that the viral video has given her daughter an opportunity to follow her dreams.

"From a young age, she would jump over walls whenever she saw one, but I never realized that it would lead to something like this," Khatoon said. "I can't put into words how proud I am of her. I hope her story inspires other children to follow their passions."

Rao said that he hopes the other students in his dance academy will also get more support as a result of Jashika and Mohammad's story going viral. Currently, the children practice on a hard surface and he wants to be able to provide mats for them in the future.

"I am very happy for these two kids, but there are lots of slum children who are talented but their stories are not heard," Rao said. "I hope more people will pay attention now."

Although social media did not exist when Comaneci started her gymnastics career in Romania, it was also her doing cartwheels in school that caught the attention of gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi.

"I was doing some cartwheels in kindergarten when Bela came to ask all the kids if they could do cartwheels," Comaneci said. "So it started with a cartwheel for me, too. You never know where a cartwheel can take you."

Comaneci told ABC News that she is glad she could make a difference for the kids by sharing the video on social media.

"I think that every kid should have an opportunity to play sports, and there are a lot of kids who don’t have those opportunities because they come from a difficult background or they cannot afford to do that," Comaneci said. "If I can change the life of someone, using sports or social media, I think that’s amazing."

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