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From rally-racing driver to yoga instructor to lifestyle blogger, these women have carved niche of their own

Women have broken many glass ceilings in recent years and excelled in a variety of careers. This Independence Day, we bring to you inspiring stories of a few women who have overcome the odds and personal struggles to make a name for themselves in their chosen fields.

Became one of India’s top rally-racing drivers despite entering the field in her 30s

Garima Avtar, one of India’s top rally-racing drivers and an independent automotive journalist, took the plunge into the competitive world of rally racing in her 30s. She is among a handful of women to have participated in nearly all of India’s major rallying competitions, including the Indian National Rally Championship, the Raid De Himalayas, Desert Storm, the Mughal Rally, and the Monsoon Challenge.

In a chat with The Indian Express, Avtar shared how she got into motorsports which was an unchartered territory for her and it was dominated by men. “I got into rallying and motorsports in my 30s. When you are over 30, you are planning your retirement in any sport,” she said.

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Motorsports required not just physical and mental strength, but also a solid financial support, she shared.

At the time, her family and friends did not take her seriously and out of their concern advised her against pursuing such a career.

“They argued that I will end up being disappointed, as motorsports is a risky and a tough sport, and I was neither trained, nor physically tough, and above all I was on the wrong side of the age curve.”“Since then, the journey may have been gruelling, but there has been no looking back. I was a late starter, but then one is never too late to start. I feel age should not limit what we can do, what we can learn and what we can achieve,” she said.

Born in a conservative family in Bareilly, a sleepy town in Uttar Pradesh, she was married off at the age of 18 right after she finished her Class 12. “I was a bright student, always been my house and school captain and I wanted to study further but I had no say,” she said.

She did her graduation after her marriage but she wasn’t allowed to attend regular college.Her marriage also didn’t turn out to be successful and ended in divorce. Being a single mother to a daughter, she said she found herself at the crossroads of life.

“I could have stayed in an unhappy marriage or chosen a life of self-respect and dignity. I belonged to a business-class family and led a very protected and secure life. I had never taken up a job before so it was a new experience for me,” she said.

Since she had no financial backing or a professional degree, the initial years as a single mother were tough. “But I was determined to make something of my life and I slowly found my feet and got into a full-time corporate job,” she shared.

It was during her corporate career that she got introduced to the world of motorsports. Initially, she pursued her new-found passion during weekends and holidays. But soon her new hobby became a full-fledged love affair.

“The problem was that due to my full-time job I was not able to give enough time to train or participate in events. I realised that if I wanted to seriously pursue my new line of career then I have to quit my secured job but with no guarantee of success. So, once again I was faced with a very difficult choice which had its own risks,” she said.

After working for nine years in the corporate world, Avtar took the plunge to go into rally-racing full time.

“Today I am proud of myself that I could gather the courage to take this risk and make a name for myself in my chosen field. Now when I look back, I also realise that had I not made those tough and challenging decisions at that point in my life, I would not have achieved or reached where I am today,” she said.

Overcame a difficult childhood to become a yoga instructor and body positivity influencer

Natasha Noel overcame a difficult childhood to become a yoga instructor and a body positivity influencer who was named on the BBC 100 Women List in 2019. Her biological mother died by suicide when she was only three-and-a-half years old and she witnessed the horrendous act as her mother burned herself.

Her biological father had schizophrenia and couldn’t take care of her so she was taken in by her god parents. She said she was even raped when she was only seven and she blamed herself and thought she was the reason why her family was destroyed.

“My self-esteem was completely destroyed and I hated my body. I thought I was completely unworthy. All this turned me into a troubled teenager who wasn’t able to express herself,” she said.She got fascinated by yoga when she joined Instagram and saw women doing amazing things with their bodies. “I had a really bad knee injury and the doctors told me I couldn’t do any movement and just before this I was a professional dancer so I thought my life was over once again.”

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For three months, she taught herself yoga and after that she did six teacher training courses in yoga. She has been practising and teaching yoga for the past 10 years.

She said her Instagram page (@natashanoel001) is about body positivity and she wants to show her true authentic self as a content creator without any filters. “Sometimes it takes a toll on you but then I remind myself why I started. I want to inspire people like I was inspired to start yoga,” she said.

Diagnosed with vitiligo as a child, she became a fashion and lifestyle influencer

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Aastha Shah, who was diagnosed with vitiligo as a child, became a popular digital creator on fashion and lifestyle amassing 6.25 lakh followers across various social media platforms. Talking about the challenges she faced while growing up, Shah said she “wasn’t accepted as a normal child by the society”. She said she used to get blank stares, called names and no one accepted her the way she was.

“In school, children didn’t like sitting next to me and I was called names like Dalmatian dog. People also gave me a lot of unsolicited advice. Nevertheless, I didn’t let all this affect my confidence as I got the support of my family,” she said.

Shah previously worked as a financial analyst at HDFC Bank before embarking on her content creation journey. She is concurrently working toward her CFA.

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Recently, she met actors Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt during a promotional event for the film ‘Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani’. Asked what advice she would give to women who are not confident in their own skin, she said, “You can love others only when you love yourself. Be confident in your own skin and never get bothered about people around you. If they don’t like you, it’s their loss. Don’t let your skin define you.”

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