[OPINION] The life-changing Laureus Sports awards
The Laureus Sports for Good Awards is 'The Oscars' of world sport. It celebrates the pinnacle of human achievement – a night when a few gifted individuals reach god-like status in the eyes of an adoring public. It is a night when they ditch their sweaty training gear, and dress like the celebrities they are.
I quickly realise, after touching down in picturesque Nice and being whisked off to Monaco, that there's more to these Laureus Awards than a glittering one-night affair. It is a movement of change, replete with stories of extraordinary human achievement.
Thanks to modern technology the world has become a tiny place. It's easy to find out what anyone is up to, pretty much at any time. But often the most amazing stories go untold. Here we were, a handful of international sports journalists in a conference room in Monaco, watching Yuwa, a girls football programme, receive the Laureus Sport for Good Award from former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. The whispers of "Yu-who??" could be heard as reporters scrambled through their Google browsers for background information.
Four school girls from India who represented the 450 others back home, confidentially stood up and explained how football, through Yuwa, had saved their lives. They spoke of their disadvantaged community, how they had defied their family's dream of becoming child brides and mothers by the age of 15. Yuwa gave them hope, an education and the opportunity to experience freedom through football.
This story really brought on a moment of introspection; how I take for granted that I am a working woman, allowed to make my own choices, fortunate to have the freedom to make my own decisions, and to then pass that on to my two daughters at home, who will be encouraged to soar. Something completely foreign to these four girls, before Yuwa.
Fast forward 24 hours and there we were dressed in our evening wear, standing patiently behind the media barrier, admiring the pristine red carpet in front of us. Waiting and guessing who would be gracing us with their presence. Would there be a chance to see our heroes and heroines, and, more importantly, would we be able to speak to them?
Soon the name dropping started: Sean Fitzpatrick, Boris Becker, Luis Figo, Cesc Fabregas, Monica Seles, Brian O'Driscoll, Missy Franklin, Eliud Kipchoge, Fabio Capello, Didier Deschamps, Chris Hoy, Fabian Cancellara, Nico Rosberg, David Coulthard, Edwin Moses, the list goes on.... and between all the big names, dressed in their traditional saris came the four girls from Yuwa Football: Neeta Kumari, Hema Kumari, Konika Kumari, and Radha Kumari - the biggest smiles while proudly carrying the trophy they had been handed by Wenger the day before.
How surreal this must be for them. And how surreal this was for me.
Lindsey Vonn glided passed us in her spectacular white dress, with the longest slit up the front. His Royal Highness Prince Albert dashed by without his wife Charlene (not sure where she was), and the man everyone wanted to see, Novak Djokovic, charmed his way through the media into the grand hall, where unfortunately we were not permitted.
Later, we sat face-to-face in a media room in Monaco just metres away from the untouchable superstar athletes we report on every day - our heroes and heroines; the people we admire and respect so much - here in the flesh. And yes, they are human after all. They spoke about everyday life, their trials and tribulations, the daily physical and mental obstacles that come their way; about overcoming the massive urge to quit and then coming back even stronger.
Vonn describes the unbearable pain in her joints (she's broken her arms, ankles, knee, torn ligaments, shattered shins) forcing her body to quit downhill skiing - but her mind can't understand why.
World number one Novak Djokovic describes how his young children don't understand that he's a world champion or why strangers want photos with him.
Highlight of my trip?@djokernole saying "that's a great question" after I asked if his children understand his fame & that he's a champ & how has parenting changed the way he approaches the game mentally". Literally only asked a question so he'd be forced to look at me to answer pic.twitter.com/hp6kJquQor— Cindy Poluta (@CindyPoluta) February 19, 2019
I sit there and let their words fall over me, trying to wrap my head around it all. These athletes draw just as much inspiration and energy from us as we do from them. Hearing the stories, like those from Yuwa football, gives them the motivation to continue - that by being these amazing sports stars, they are giving so many people hope.
All this time we watch and admire these athletes, who in turn are doing the same to us. They need us more than we need them.
We're all navigating our way through life. One step at a time. All questioning what next, what now.
For me? I don't know. It's going to take a lot to top this experience. I came to Monaco to tell the story of how Laureus through sport changes peoples’ lives and in just 48 hours, it seems mine has changed too.
"When girls know their worth, they’re limitless." - Yuwa Football
Cindy Poluta is an EWN sports anchor. Follow her on Twitter @CindyPoluta