HomeSpun Curator Masum Momaya caught up with Indian American medal-winning gymnast Raj Bhavsar, four years from his Olympic experience.
MM: What got you started in gymnastics? Was your family supportive of your interests?
RB: I was an active kid, I climbed furniture and broke things in the house so my parents enrolled me in gymnastics at age 4. I fell in love. It was the perfect place for a monkey! My parents were supportive throughout my entire career, as long as school never suffered. I had to maintain the grades. My parents came to all my competitions, and I loved it.
MM: Were there moments when you faced doubts about continuing with gymnastics and achieving your goals? What kept you going in those moments?
RB: Yes, there were many doubts many times throughout my career. Sometimes an athlete goes into slumps when they are not performing well and everything seems wrong. I had those moments when I was young (at age 13). I also thought about quitting, especially after missing the 2004 Olympic Games. I was an alternate, and I took it hard. What brought me back every time was the love I had for doing gymnastics, not the scores.
MM: It’s been four years since your participation in the Olympics. Is there a particularly sweet memory that you carry with you from that experience?
RB: Yes, when Team USA was on high bar, we hit all our routines and stuck all three dismounts. The crowd went wild, and we had the entire arena chanting USA! USA! Even the Chinese people. I get chills thinking about it.
MM: You were the first Indian American male gymnast to win an Olympic medal. Have you found that your efforts and visibility inspired other Indian Americans to pursue competitive level gymnastics or athletics as a career?
RB: I’ve seen some Indians get into gymnastics, but I’m not sure it’s just me who is doing the inspiring. I like to think that ethnicity no longer causes doubt in a kid’s dreams. I am hoping gymnastics becomes a more popular choice of course, not just for Indian American kids, but Indians across the globe. I sometimes see videos of gymnastics in India, and it makes me smile.
MM: What have you been up to since the 2008 Olympic Games?
RB: Several things. I chunked life down into the three facets that interest me most: business, arts, and lifestyle. I have opportunities in all three. I have been blessed to speak to kids and companies all over the nation about my story and the power of human will. I spent some time performing with Cirque Du Soleil as well in the Los Angeles show IRIS.
MM: Is there a lesson or two from your experiences that you feel is important to share with young people?
RB: Dedicate yourself to the concept of accountability. Take 100% responsibility for everything in life. It will put you in the driver’s seat and will lead to integrity. The journey to self-improvement never stops.
The achievements of Raj Bhavsar and other Indian Americans will be featured in an exhibition on Indian American heritage that opens at the Smithsonian in September 2013.