By Maria Fernandes
The only female bikini body builder in Goa, Karishma Parker, is also an orthodontist, philanthropist (in the field of women empowerment and child welfare) and a national level bikini athlete, besides being a single mom. A finalist of the international glamour project, Mrs India 2021, Parker now has her eye set on the international body building scene and is working towards it.
Parker’s story is a lesson in courage, taking responsibility for one’s life, perseverance and overcoming obstacles.
In 2016, Parker, who came from financially-comfortable background, was living a conventional life. Married with a four-year-old daughter, she realised her marriage was not all that she had hoped for and decided to call it quits. She wanted to live life on her own terms and decided to get a divorce.
Divorce is never easy and what followed was strife in all areas of her life. She slipped into depression and before long was binge eating. Weight gain and other related problems soon besieged her. “I was fighting a lot of battles not just within but also without. My emotional eating led to obesity, PCOD and I found my life spiraling out of control,” she recalls.
However, good sense prevailed when she realised that the path she was on would only lead to more frustration, depression and the feeling of intense helplessness. “I knew I had to take charge of my life and make a change, hence I enrolled my self in a gym. I thought to myself, if I cannot change my mind and all I am feeling and going through, I can at least change my body,” she says. Losing weight was her goal then and the trainers there introduced her to weights. “The trainers were also body builders and I liked the fact that besides fat loss I was also developing a toned structure,” she adds. The gym and exercising soon became her passion and she actually looked forward to her sessions with enthusiasm. “I wouldn’t miss even a day and got so into it that I started doing a lot of research on female body building,” she says. Through social media she met her first coach, who was based in Australia, and received training online. “Bodybuilding kind of grounded me not just physically but also mentally. It made me much stronger. When I was most broken, I found my passion and have been very grateful for it,” she says.
Coming from a family where education and profession are rated very high, Parker had a tough time convincing her family about the validity of the path she had chosen. “It wasn’t easy for my dad to accept what I loved and I don’t blame him because bodybuilding for women in India is rather new, and definitely no one had heard of women in Goa competing. Hence, I hid my first competition from my dad. He didn’t understand what it meant for me. But I think now he does and supports me.”
Besides resistance from the family, she also had to contend with the financial aspect of the sport. With EMIs to be paid for the clinic she had purchased and also manage her daughter and herself, it was tough. She says it was courage in great measure and belief in herself, which saw her through. “When no woman was even thinking of taking this sport seriously in our state, I was going all out for it and faced a lot of flak.” Criticism came from all quarters and for varied reasons, especially from conservatives who frowned upon her wearing a bikini during competitions. But not one to cow down, she went ahead undaunted. “I have never paid much heed to what people say or how they react to my decisions. I believe we all just have one life and need to make the most of it. I only concentrated on what healed me, what gave me happiness and what gave meaning to my life. The rest was taken care of by God.”
Of course there have been many slips and falls in between but as she says, it is all about learning and moving on. “The intent was always to become a better person and I followed my heart and that’s when the best things in life started happening. I learned that we build a lot of blocks in our own progress due to parental, societal and peer conditioning and then lose our core identity,” she states. “We need to take more risks, break some stereotypes and do things that are original.”
Parker is of the opinion that when you truly want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it but trust and belief are required in great measure. “Have a vision and stay focused. It takes time and hard work but keep at it. I just took one day at a time and it worked.”