From footwear designer to India’s first woman polo player, Rinaa Shah on defying stereotypes

"I believe one should learn as much as they can in the one life that they are given," 'Fearless' Rinaa Shah tells indianexpress.com

When asked to describe herself, Rinaa Shah used the adjectives ‘passionate’, ‘hardworking’, ‘determined’, ‘bold’, and ‘fearless’. She is all this and much more.

India’s first woman polo player, she embarked on this journey when she was 40, challenging stereotypes about age. But it was footwear designing that she fell in love with first. In between, Shah did a lot of other remarkable things like jumping off a plane, going on dangerous treks, doing a bit of car racing, mountain climbing, and more.

But, since her adventure-loving soul desired more, she went on to learn to play the drum too and established herself as a DJ next.

In a recent exclusive interaction with indianexpress.com, the owner of the polo team Rinaldi Polo opened up about her life, her struggles, feeling overwhelmed while achieving so many things in life, and why she wants women of the country to keep working hard.

Excerpts:

You are India’s first woman polo player, turning professional at 40. You have defied stereotypes about age. How do you feel?

It’s the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I would like to believe I have broken stereotypes and I am very proud of myself to have even reached where I am today. I have my own polo team, and I have three professionals in my team. But, I don’t get professional fees to play, even though I am playing at a professional level. I am a patron and play with my team. Most importantly, I am so grateful that polo came into my life and changed it forever. Hope I can inspire the youth and be an example that age is just a barrier and passion drives you always.

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A post shared by Rina shah (@rinaldipolo)

When did you fall in love with the sport and what made you take it up professionally?

I have always been into sports and before polo, I used to play tennis, squash and was a swimmer as well. My first entry in the game was when I went to watch a polo match in Mumbai and fell in love. That is when I instantly knew that I wanted to play.

While I had made up my mind, the fact is that no one in my family had even sat on a horse before or been exposed to horses in general. It was something that I was excited about, however alien it was to me. I was drawn towards it because I love adventure and tough sports.

After that, I only rode horses for a year to strengthen my riding and was convinced this is what I wanted to do, along with inspiring the youth of my country.

What was your family’s reaction when you first told them of your decision?

The things I have done are usually not the norm for most women. So initially, my parents were not the most supportive, but once they saw my dedication and hard work, they supported me in every way.

You started off as a footwear designer and built quite a prominent client base. Tell us about this passion of yours.

Designing shoes was my first love and I was only 23 years old when I was India’s first shoe designer. I wanted to excel in my business, and I dedicated 15 years to make it super successful. I designed for many celebrities in Bollywood and Hollywood, like Natalie Portman, Naomi Campbell, Shilpa Shetty, and more. I also designed and made shoes for approximately 5,000 brides at a point in time. It gave me the courage to be extraordinary and taught me that nothing is impossible if you are passionate and willing to put in the hard work.

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A post shared by Rinaa Shah (@rinaashah)

You have also established yourself as an electronic drummer and a DJ…

I believe one should learn as much as they can in the one life that they are given. Growing up, I always wanted to be an athlete or musician. After 15 years of dedication to my work and making money, I took two years’ sabbatical so I could fulfill my two passions. I knew I was starting late but I was not going to stop. In 2018, I started learning the drums, and then in 2019, I went to DJ school in Amsterdam. From there, it was no turning back as I have done many gigs and won the 10th best DJ in India. I have a lot to achieve in the music world and I am working on that now.

Has it been a challenge for you, to defy societal norms and expectations and chase your heart?

It’s always been different, as society sees you differently. What I did was male-dominated or never done. A lot of people put me down and never thought I could do it, but I knew that I cannot let them define who I am.

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A post shared by Rinaa Shah (@rinaashah)

Has there ever been a moment in your life when you have felt overwhelmed?

Absolutely! Many times. But, I believe these things can only be a hurdle in your goals. I have learnt to overcome and keep moving ahead.

What are you working on currently?

I have been in Goa working on my music, and I will soon launch my intellectual property in music, which will be an event here. So currently I am working on that.

How much importance do you give to fitness — both of the mind and the body?

A lot of importance, because without it I would not be able to do what I do today. Both mind and body must be in optimum condition to achieve things in life.

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A post shared by Rinaa Shah (@rinaashah)

How have the pandemic and lockdown experiences been for you? What has kept you busy in the last few months?

The pandemic has been insightful, and I have learnt a lot. It has made me a calmer and more patient person. Also, I read the MindValley Lifebook which changed my life. The way I am, I always try to make the most of the situation.

What is your message to millions of women and girls in the country on finding the courage to do something remarkable in life?

The best advice given to me by my parents has been: there is no substitute for hard work and dedication.

Anything that you are particularly excited about presently?

I am super excited to launch my music IP in Goa, and hope I can make some history in the music world, too. Fingers crossed!

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