Berlin, Germany – Karnataka’s Eramma is set to compete in tennis at the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2023 in Berlin. The prestigious event, which takes place between June 17 and June 25, will see a contingent of 198 athletes and unified partners and 57 coaches representing India across 16 sports. Eramma was born hearing impaired and acquired a speech deficiency when growing up, leading to deficient cognitive abilities. Despite this, she has become a multi-talented athlete, and tennis has added a new veneer to her personality.
Growing up in the small village of Taranagar, in Bellary district, North Karnataka, Eramma had very little exposure to sports. Her parents were farmers, responsible for supporting her and her two siblings. However, when she was around 14 years old, she was enrolled in the Tamanna School in Toranagallu, established for children from families with lower socio-economic abilities, by her uncle. Her uncle also decided to foster her, and very soon, Eramma made the most of the sports facilities available within, establishing herself as a multi-talented athlete.
“She started off as a runner, and then two years later when she was 16, she started playing table tennis,” said Rajesh Vhanne, head of sports at the school since 2016 and the tennis coach for the Special Olympics Bharat contingent travelling to Berlin for the World Games. It was put to her, when she was playing Table Tennis that perhaps she could expand her interest and use not just her hand-eye coordination, but also her physical abilities to their maximum. She was pushed onto the tennis court, and almost immediately she thrived.
At the World Games, Eramma will take part in the singles, the women’s doubles as well as the mixed doubles. SO Bharat’s four-member tennis contingent is multicultural, and the two boys in the team are from Haryana and Delhi. While Vhanne himself has had limited time to spend with the athletes, he does not expect their performances to suffer because of it. “They have been training and practising with their area coaches long before the Games, and I can see that each of them has a special set of skills. My job is to just give them the confidence to put them on display.”
For Eramma, the goals are a little different. This will be her first trip outside India, and while she is excited about it, she is also keen to add to what will undoubtedly be a burgeoning medal tally for the country. And then she hopes to catch enough attention to get a job. A vibrant, constantly smiling face masks a fiercely competitive interior. Tennis, Vhanne says, has added a new veneer to her personality. “She used to be a bit shy, always curious but also somewhat conscious of herself and never really keen to even try and engage with people.”
An inability to converse with words and a lack of people around who used sign language undoubtedly contributed to it. But sport, as the oft-repeated maxim goes, requires no language. Vhanne can testify to it. “We can converse with each other perfectly,” he laughed. “In fact, we don’t get distracted by meaningless chatter either. Tennis language is simple, and straight. We can speak to each other clearly in it,” he added.