2008 Olympic bronze medalist Raj Bhavsar says joining actor Kal Penn and other honored guests of Indian descent for the Nanubhai Education Foundation benefit, Friday in New York, provides the unique chance to inspire Indian youth.
"I hope my involvement brings me the opportunity to visit with these kids, share my story, perform some 'backyard' gymnastics and get involved for the betterment of rural India," he told IG.
Bhavsar, a first-generation Indian-American, was a member of the bronze medal-winning U.S. team at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. He was a member of the silver medal-winning U.S. team at the 2001 and 2003 World Championships, and graduated Ohio State University in 2004 with a degree in business administration and marketing. The 28-year-old Bhavsar will speak at the March 6 benefit for the NEF, which is dedicated to raising funds for the advancement of education in rural India.
Born in Houston, Bhavsar is 100 percent Gujarati; his father hails from Vadadora (Baroda), a city in the small Indian state of Gujarat, near Mumbai. His mother was born in Kampala, Uganda, but was educated in Gujurat. Most of Bhavsar's relatives are Gujarati.
This week IG caught up with Bhavsar, who outlined his participation in the NEF benefit and described his plan to use his Olympian status to motivate others.
IG: Raj, how and why did you get involved in the Nanubhai Education Foundation?
RB: I must first say that training for an Olympic endeavor is a lofty goal but at times can be selfish in nature. For years, an athlete revolves all of his or her choices around the goal of someday being on that team, and all decisions are weighed against achieving that goal. This single-minded purpose can take a toll on the people in the athlete's life. In the athlete's case, major sacrifices are made yet the constant receiving of everyone's best prayers, wishes and full support carries on. People do everything they can to help you realize your dream.
After the thrill of achieving my dream and winning an Olympic medal, I feel a sense of responsibility to give back after the years of taking and pursuing a personal goal. Winning the medal left me wondering how I can share this message with the rest of the world, particularly those who are less fortunate than I. My cousin told me about his involvement with the foundation and the opportunity to be an honored guest at this function. As I learned about the foundation, I realized this would be a perfect opportunity to not only give back, but also to bring awareness to Olympic sports in India.
The Nanubhai Foundation is already well-established and has changed the lives of so many rural Indian kids via the boost in education reform, their area of specialization. As an Olympian, I believe in the overall well-being of these kids, and that's why the promotion of exercise and athletics is imperative in addition to the education reform. I hope my involvement with the foundation brings me the opportunity to visit with these kids, share my story, perform some "backyard" gymnastics and get involved for the betterment of rural India. While this is a small step, it is the first step.
IG: What issues will you be addressing in your speech at the benefit, and what is your goal for its impact?
RB: While I will speak about some of the highlights and accomplishments of the foundation, my hope is to bring awareness to the importance of sports. My involvement in the Olympic movement could have a tremendous effect on planting the importance of sports in the minds of young Indian kids. The Indian standard of education is very high, but I believe sports is an important part for a well-rounded culture. India has many talented athletes, and the Olympics would be a wonderful stage for them to illustrate the values of India and its culture. If I have the opportunity, I will share some insights to my story and what I did to make the Olympic Games. My journey to the Olympics was arduous and long, but I hope it can inspire people to overcome obstacles, reclaim their power in life and never give up on their dreams. If my story and my experience can somehow better the life of another, then it gives a higher purpose to winning an Olympic medal.
IG: What is it like working with Kal Penn for this cause?
RB: I am excited for this opportunity to meet him because I know he is also someone who has prospered by taking the road less traveled. I am hoping I get a chance to talk to him and see where his vision sits in reaching out to rural India.
IG: The recent hit film "Slumdog Millionaire" has made the American public more intrigued with Indian culture. How do you hope to influence Americans' perspective on India?
RB: I hope America already sees India as a prosperous place. While areas of the country need development, as is true with almost every country in the world, I believe India is on the rise to a more shining future. As an American athlete of Indian origin, I believe I am in a unique position, given my recent accomplishments, to do something bigger by somehow merging the benefits of being American with the humbleness and prosperity of the Indian culture. While my path to this endeavor isn't yet clear, I believe that simply taking an interest in doing this is where most people start. After watching "Slumdog Millionaire," and witnessing its sweep at the Oscars, I simply said to myself, "I'm proud to be Indian."
IG: What other organizations are you working with, or would like to work with in the future?
RB: I am working more closely with the National Federation of Indian Americans (NFIA) and was recently awarded honors in the Field of Olympic Sports, and met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am considering a brand ambassador program with them, and am excited about the opportunities it could present. I am also talking with Zeons, a company that works with renewable bio fuel and could have an impact on reducing American dependence on foreign fuel. Right now a lot of my work is exploratory, and I hope that I continue to get the opportunity to not only share my story, but also bring to the forefront the true "gold" in being a gymnast.
External Link: Nanubhai Education Foundation
Raj Bhavsar is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
January/February 2009: "Tour Tales - 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars"
October 2008: Beijing Olympic Games special issue
March 2005: "Double Crossed" - Bhavsar interview
October 2003: World Championships special issue
To subscribe to IG or order back issues, click here.