Growing up in Baga and Calangute in Goa, Katya Ida Coelho consistently harboured a deep connection with the ocean. The vast expanse of the sea, accompanied by its powerful waves colliding against the coastline, perpetually evoked a sense of belonging within young Katya.
Sitting on the beach and watching her father surf the ocean was her favourite pastime. Besides that, she would spend hours swimming and being around water, waiting for the time when she would be able to join her father.
“I had a certain affinity with water from a young age. The environment in which I was growing up nurtured my interest in the sport,” says Katya.
Now 23, Katya has already made a mark in the sailing sport. She is the first and only Indian sailor to represent the country at the Youth Olympics in 2014. In 2022, she secured a silver medal at the Thailand Asian Championship.
Presently, Katya is the first female IQFoiler from the country to qualify for the upcoming Asian Games 2023. In a chat with The Better India, she speaks about the challenges of the sport and how she is preparing for the Asian Games.
Surfing the waters since 11
One of the greatest joys in the life of Donald Ceasar Coelho, a 52-year-old man and Katya’s father and coach, is witnessing his daughter’s journey as she develops into an athlete, bringing pride to their nation.
“Even as a child or as a young athlete, Katya has always been extremely focused and dedicated to her sport and training,” he recalls.
Katya started her sailing journey at the age of 11. “I used to watch my father’s windsurfing races and get really excited about the idea of surfing one day. My brother joined my father to surf when he was seven, and that fueled my passion even more,” she recalls.
“Always a water baby, when I started windsurfing for the first time, it was an incredible feeling. Although I was a little scared at first, when I started to move with the wind and water, I finally felt like I was home,” she adds.
Katya says that it was never in her plans to become a professional sailor. “For me, it was more of a hobby. Something that I loved doing and enjoyed to bits. I never thought I would actually take the sport as a career option. It was my father who pointed out that I have greater potential and that I could consider it to be more than just a hobby,” she says.
After participating in various local and national competitions, Katya decided to pursue her passion for a professional career.
“Windsurfing is an adventure sport and is quite dangerous. You are out there in the sea with harsh winds. However, the feeling you get of being one with the water is powerful and keeps me going,” she says.
Katya’s impressive accomplishments include securing bronze medals in the Singapore Open in both 2014 and 2015, as well as earning a silver medal in the IQFoil category at the Thailand Asian Championship. Furthermore, she holds the distinction of being the first Indian athlete to qualify for the 2014 Youth Olympics held in Nanjing, China.
She is now preparing to represent India at the upcoming Asian Games, to be held in China, which will also serve as a qualifying event for Paris Olympics 2024.
Paving a way ahead for other
Readying herself for the upcoming Asian Games, Katya reflected on the initial hurdles she faced.
“The issue that I personally faced was the lack of recognition of the sport. Since there is not much recognition, especially in the women’s category, I had to compete within the men’s categories to get exposure. For the same reason, there is not much scope for sponsorships too,” she shares.
“For most of my career, it was my father who sponsored me and trained me. There was no training school at the time, and I was lucky enough to have a father in the same sport,” she adds.
Donald opened a windsurfing academy in Goa, and the family trains people interested in pursuing the sport.
Talking about her training and preparation for the upcoming Asian Games, Katya says, “Just being able to qualify for the event is a win for me. It is every athlete’s dream to be where I will be soon. I am following a strict diet to gain more body mass and a workout routine with exercises both in the morning and evening. I am also being careful and avoiding any kind of injuries. I feel ready physically and mentally to represent my country and perform well.”
A physically demanding sport, she shares a few things to keep in mind before entering the sport. “Windfoiling, in particular, needs a lot of physical training and requires you to gain body mass. The conditions are also very rough, and the training mostly takes place at hours when the sun is at its peak. The sport is finally getting recognition from all over the country, so this is the right time to get into the sport,” she says.
A proud coach and father, Donald says, “As a father of a girl child, you have a soft corner, but as a coach, you cannot compromise. When you believe in making champions, the biggest weapon is vision and dedication to the sport; combining the mind and soul together and dedicating it to one purpose. Katya is giving most of her time to her training; she is very dedicated and hardly ever skips her training. We are really excited for her.”
“There were times when I did not get any recognition and wanted to give up. There is a certain amount of risk involved in this adventure sport, and there were times when I wondered why I was doing it,” says Katya.
“But what kept me going was the counter thought of, ‘If not me then who?’. The love and passion I have for this sport make me want to pave the way forward for other women. My brother, who is also a windsurfer is another source of motivation for me. He comes in and reminds me of the reason why I started the sport in the first place,” she adds.
“While the training is hard and the conditions surrounding the sport are rough, the feeling it gives cannot be expressed in words. When you are alone out there in the sea with just water around you — it is truly liberating,” says Katya.
Edited by Pranita Bhat