We are proud to announce that Kunal Premnarayen, a clubfoot survivor and former Wake Forest University tennis player turned successful entrepreneur in India, has joined miraclefeet's board of directors. Kunal’s story of having prevailed over this disability to become a star athlete is one that will inspire children and parents all over the world. “We are thrilled that Kunal has agreed to lend his support to miraclefeet by joining our board,” said Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld, executive director of miraclefeet. “His personal experience with clubfoot in India, combined with his passionate desire to spread awareness about the disability, and his success as both an athlete and a business person, provides the miraclefeet board of directors with an extremely valuable additional perspective.”
Kunal was treated with a method similar to Ponseti when he was born in India in 1977. He has clear and vivid memories of wearing braces and steel boots to correct his clubfoot until he was nearly eight years old, but this did not stop him from becoming an athlete. Kunal credits much of this athletic success to his 92 year old grandfather/mentor, a tennis professional in his own right who played in both Wimbledon and the French Open and became the number two tennis player in India. He helped Kunal become the 5th highest ranked tennis player in India, despite being born with this disability. Because of his talent, Kunal had the opportunity to move to Florida to attend tennis academies in high school. From there, he was offered a scholarship at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he was a star tennis player from 1994 – 1997.
When asked about his own experience with clubfoot, Kunal is impressively positive: “Becoming an athlete got me through the tough times. Sports are life-changing for someone who has had a hard youth or who has survived bullying because of a disability. For me, being an athlete was the way for me to find my personality and stand up to people. Truly, I may have gone into a shell if I had not become an athlete.” He elaborated about his decision to join the miraclefeet board, “When I learned about miraclefeet, I didn’t just want to be a donor, although I knew that was important. I wanted to make an even more notable difference – I want to look back at my life and feel that I have done something that is very satisfying and that helps many people.” In fact, Kunal and his wife Kavita asked their wedding guests to donate to CURE International India and miraclefeet in lieu of giving wedding gifts when they were married in 2011, thereby raising nearly $10,000 for the organizations collectively.
Kunal says he has thrived because of the support of many people over his lifetime. He recently asked his mom if she and his dad ever thought he would live a normal life when he was born with severe bilateral clubfoot. She wasn’t sure, but she pushed through her fear, trusted their doctor and relied on her faith. When his clubfoot started getting better, that fear went away. He also talks about his wife as an inspiration, “She left a very successful corporate career in New York to move here with me and run an NGO that provided education to women in the slums of Mumbai. It is one thing to give your money, but it is truly another to dedicate your whole life to something you believe in. She shares my passion for miraclefeet, and we look forward to increasing access to treatment and awareness about clubfoot across India.”
Kunal recently attended a renovation celebration for a miraclefeet-supported clubfoot clinic in Mumbai at Wadia Hospital (see below), which we blogged about last month. He said this about that event, “It really touched me because I had gone through this treatment myself. I met every single child and parent before I left there that day because the parents wanted to know how I had fared after my own treatment and what they should do to make things better for their kids. I reminded them not to stop treatment just when they think things are going okay – clubfoot can reverse and it is very important to be consistent with treatment.” He said to the crowd, “I was born with both of my feet facing the other way, and yet I became a highly successful athlete. Never lose hope.”
miraclefeet has been able to raise over $3 million since it started operating three years ago, and is now supporting clubfoot clinics in 11 countries worldwide. Much of this funding has come from individuals and foundations attracted to the very compelling prospect of transforming the life of a child forever with a simple, inexpensive non-surgical treatment.
“miraclefeet has achieved remarkable success with a very small staff and board. The time is right for miraclefeet to add capacity and personal expertise as we continue to grow at a rapid rate. My own son, who was born with clubfoot, now plays tennis, and sees Kunal as one of his inspirations,” said Roger Berman, co-founder and chair of the miraclefeet board of directors.