He was born weak. Weak in muscles that is. Ayush Bhatnagar was diagnosed with congenital myopathy – a muscle disorder in babies that causes difficulty in breathing; these children usually lag behind other babies in meeting normal developmental milestones such as turning over or sitting up.
Ayush was not one of them; while his weakness showed in his walk up the stage to receive a junior sportsman of the year award, his grit was written all over his face.
It was this grit that saw him win swimming and athletics titles in the Independence Games in 2007 and 2008.
In the same years, he also won the title in table tennis for Special Olympics, and followed it up with a similar title in National Games in 2009.
He won Mintram Cup for academic excellence the following year, and received a silver medal in table tennis at the Arafura Games in Australia in 2011.
On the night of 26 May 2012, Ayush shared the Junior Sportsman of the Year award with Ish Sodhi at the inaugural Indian Community and Sports Awards held at the Sudima Hotel near Auckland airport.
The 20-year old Ish (Inderbir) Singh Sodhi, who was born in Ludhiana in India, has played for Auckland under-17, Auckland under-19, and New Zealand under-19 cricket teams.
He took 4 wickets for 41 against Australia and 3 wickets for 25 against India in the under-19 tournament last month.
Ayush and Ish were one of the few achievers recognised by the awards launched this year exclusively for the people of Indian origin living in New Zealand.
Opened with Maori and Indian prayers, the mood of the evening was set by an inspiring speech by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.
The limelight of the night however was shared by Black Cap Tarun Nethula and Junior Blackstick Shareena Nana, who received sportsman and sportswoman of the year awards respectively.
Tarun, currently training overseas, also claimed the supreme sports award which was received by his doting father Sainath Nethula, as former Black Cap Gary Troup looked on from the audience. Nethulas migrated to New Zealand from Andhra Pradesh in 1997 when Tarun was 12 years old, but returned to India in few months when Tarun lost his mother.
However in 1999, Sainath returned with his son to New Zealand where he believed Tarun will have a good sporting future. The leg-spinner made his first-class debut in 2008-09, helping Auckland win the State Championship by finishing top of the wickets chart. The year 2012 saw him join the New Zealand squad for their limited-over series against Zimbabwe.
Shareena Nana was picked in the New Zealand under-21 side last year. The 21-year-old former Pakuranga College student was one of 18 chosen from a Future Black Sticks camp, for the hockey squad that travelled to India for the Four Nations tournament in November last year. The Future Black Sticks camp prepares players for junior world cups and Youth Olympics.
Closely following on the footsteps was Rishija Dolli who received the Junior Sportswoman of the Year award. The Auckland-born girl has excelled in sports, dramatics and community work.
The St Cuthberts College student captained 1st XI cricket team as well as Badminton B team, while also playing in Senior Netball team. She is one of the very few girl guides on the central Auckland zone to achieve the Aotearoa award, and leading the Ronald McDonald House fund-raising programme for Auckland Hospital.
In the community segment, Waitakere Indian Association received the Supreme community award for providing a platform for new migrants and working with the council and other agencies in promoting events that allow the Indian community to share their culture.
Founded in 2000, the association has organised Diwali festival on the theme of community health and wellbeing along with Holi festival, sport events and networking meets for senior citizens. It organised Fiji Flood Relief Appeal last year. The association also won the Auckland City Infratil Community Award in the Arts and Culture category last year.
The community volunteer of the year award went to Constable Wells Albert who is Ethnic Peoples Community Relations Officer for New Zealand Police.
Many volunteers and community organisations were also acknowledged.
The awards were conceived by SPROUT – a group that promotes opportunities in sports and recreation for people of South Asian origin in New Zealand. The Global Indian magazine was a media partner for the event managed by volunteers .
The true winners of the night were these volunteers and the organisation behind them – SPROUT. The awards team was led by Munish Bhatt and Ram Lingam.
It was quite over-whelming to see the quality of young minds at work, says event co-ordinator Aditee Naik. “I was extremely impressed with the dedication and devotion of people within the community. It is really fascinating to see the contributions of Indians in community development and sports.”
SPROUT trustee Munish Bhatt shared the feeling. “What everyone witnessed was a humble parade of the unsung heroes and sports achievers who made the Indian community very proud.”
Indian Community and Sports Awards winners 2012
Supreme Sports Award 2012: Tarun Nethula
Supreme Community Award 2012: Waitakere Indian Association.
Community Volunteer of the year 2012
Winner: Wells Albert
Runner ups: Ashika Jyoti Prasad and Minoo Ghadiali
International Student of the year 2012
Winner: Jasbinder Singh
Runner Up: Yaseer Shafiq
Community Organisation of the year 2012
Winner: Waitakere Indian Association
Runner up: Bharitya Samaj Charitable Trust
Senior Citizen of the year 2012
Winner: Jagjeet Singh Kathuria
Runner up: Thilliar Varnakulasingham
Sportsman of the year 2012
Winner: Tarun Nethula
Runner up: Jeet Raval and Bhupinder Singh
Sportswoman of the year 2012
Winner: Shareena Nana
Runner up: Pearl Hans
Junior Sportsman of the year 2012
Winner: Ayush Bhatnagar and Ish Sodhi
Runner up: Vedant Zaveri
Junior Sportswoman of the year 2012
Winner: Rishija Dolli
Runner up: Denise Mendonce
Long Service Award 2012
Pratima Devi Nand
Dr. Nagalingam Rasalingam