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“Many told me to stop playing because I was a girl”: Kerala woman fights odds to become national basketball player

Grima Merlin Varghese

Grima Merlin Varghese, a 28-year-old from Kerala, faced immense adversity – both mental and physical – in her quest to play competitive basketball. She had to undergo five knee surgeries and intense rehab multiple times. Despite severe setbacks and trauma, Grima, a native of Koratty in Thrissur, was never ready to give up. After four years of rest and treatments, Grima is now a member of the Kerala senior team, which recently won a gold medal in the 3×3 Senior Nationals.

Grima also captained the Kerala team, which won the 37th national games held in Goa and came second in the senior nationals held in Ludhiana. More than the tormenting pain from the injuries, it was the emotional abuse by several persons that hurt her the most. However, her parents stood by her and gave her the support and confidence to bounce back.

“Those days were so painful. People said I would not be able to play anymore. I was so depressed that I even thought of ending my life. But my parents gave me strength. Many told me as a girl I shouldn’t play because it would be hard for me to get good marriage alliances. But I chose to follow my heart and when I look back, I don’t regret,” Grima told “Open Digest.”

It was at the age of 15 that Grima first tore her ACL. Later, she suffered a meniscus tear at the age of 17. Though she made an impressive comeback from both injuries, cartilage damage in 2018 during the Commonwealth Games in Australia made things much worse for her.

“In 2018, I was playing in the Commonwealth Games in Australia when I suffered cartilage damage to my right leg. This injury made things much worse. I couldn’t even walk or move around. Over the course of two years, I underwent three surgeries on the same knee as part of the treatment,” she said.

Grima was devastated but not deterred. “I just kept telling myself I could do this if I worked hard enough,” she said. Though warned she may never play at the same level, Grima diligently followed her rehab protocol and hit the gym religiously to strengthen her legs. After four years of hard work and determination, she was able to return to the basketball court in 2022.

Grima, who works as a Senior Assistant at KSEB, is also a part of the KSEB basketball team. She has team practice sessions every day, from 6:00 am to 8:30 am, and from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm. Grima is proud to have represented India on three occasions – FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in 2017, FIBA Asia Women 3×3 in 2017 and the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

“It’s my dream to play for my country. By God’s grace, I could do it for three times and I cherish them. My only mission now is to once again wear that Indian jersey and play for my country. I can’t wait to make a comeback and show the world what I’m made of,” she said. She has a word of advice to young girls who want to chase their passion in sports. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams. There will be setbacks but focus on what you can control each day, like working hard and having a positive attitude. If you believe in yourself, anything is possible.”

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