She sails for her country and after pursuing a degree in medicine, amidst competitive sailing, is now a qualified doctor. What started out as a leisure activity transformed into a passion for Rohini Rau, the first Indian woman sailor to be ranked on international charts. A gold at the Laser Coastal Nationals in 2010, another at the Laser Radial National Championships in the same year, a bronze at the City of Perth Regatta in 2011 and a silver at the Tel Aviv National Regatta in 2012 are some of her more memorable wins and have made her a force to reckon with in the sport.
Rohini Rau began her sailing career way back in 2003. She started competing at the age of 11 and noticed, but wasn’t deterred by the fact, that sometimes she was the only girl sailing against men. In fact she found it quite amusing when most of the army and navy sailors would get angry when she beat them.
Today Rohini is a formidable figure in the nautical world and has won 14 gold medals and 5 silvers in national championships, along with two golds that she clinched at the Asian Games. In a career that spans more than 12 years, she has represented the country at eight world championships, along with several other international races.
Rohini says, “I believe I had already started sailing when I was in the womb! That’s what I have been told,” she jokes and adds that when she was hardly a year old her mom took her sailing for the first time. “I always loved the water when I was growing up,” she adds with a grin. Having studied in Portsmouth, UK, her mother was the one in the family who knew what sailing was. So when she came to Chennai, she joined the Royal Madras Yacht Club and used to sail for fun and that’s where it all started.
She started sailing on her own when she was about 10 years old, when she joined a summer sailing camp that was held at the club. She describes her first impression,“I loved the water and was a total tomboy growing up, so I loved the sense of adventure. I was one of the few girls who were sailing at the time. I was given my own boat and the sense of freedom and independence you get from being out on the water by yourself making your own decisions really excited me at such a young age when you are usually told what to do all the time.”
Since then, it has been a tough journey, she says. There were things she didn’t realise while she was a child, but definitely felt as an adult. “Early on, I wasn’t sent for championships abroad as the Federation felt I had enough competition in India among the men. So unless I defeated the men, they weren’t going to send me for any event.” Her hopes and aspirations took shape soon enough when she won the gold medal at the Asian Sailing Championship with team mate Pallavi Naik, from Goa, in 2004.
Her determination to pursue the sport often fetched her scorn and sometimes even ridicule. “I decided to pursue medicine in 2004. Most of my critics thought I would quit the sport now that I had chosen to study. They didn’t realise how dogged I could be,” she tells with pride. Rohini has taken 10 years to complete a 5 and a half year medical degree. “My choices were tough, but I chose to stick it out and go the distance. And for that I only have my family, especially my parents, who have supported me and sacrificed so much so I could continue pursuing my passion,” she says.
She’s voluntarily taken a break from the sport for the last two years. She says, ”As much as it hurts not being there, I am glad I finally finished my MBBS degree. I might make a comeback this year, it’s too late for the 2016 Olympics now, but may be the next Asian Games. I am also looking forward to starting work at a private hospital