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Deepika Kumari: A Mother's Grace, An Archer's Grit

Archer Deepika Kumari clinched the National Games women's individual gold medal as she set her eyes on qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Deepika Kumari: A Mothers Grace, An Archers Grit

Deepika Kumari in action at the women's recurve archery final at the 37th National Games 2023, Goa, on Monday. (PritishRaj/TheBridge)


Pritish Raj

Updated: 6 Nov 2023 3:36 PM GMT

Farmagudi, Goa: A windy afternoon amidst the jungles of Western Ghats made up for the venue of the archery final at the National Games 2023 where former world number one archer Deepika Kumari defeated Sangeeta in the women's event to clinch gold on Monday.

Returning to a major competition after becoming a mother to a baby girl in December 2022, Deepika Kumari defeated Sangeeta 6-2 in a final, navigating the tough weather conditions.

"I feel very happy as I have won a medal at the National Games after eight years. I played in the 2015 National Games last and couldn't play in the 2022 edition due to my pregnancy," Deepika told The Bridge after her gold medal win.

The Jharkhand woman, however, admits that she has to work a lot harder to find her rhythm back.

"I believe that I have a lot to improve due to lack of game time in the past one and half years caused by my pregnancy," she added.

Deepika won a total of three medals- gold in women's individual, gold in mixed team final, and silver in women's team final - at the Games.

Talking about her feat, Deepika said, "More than the gold medal, the way I played was more important to me. I held a lot of shots to get into the rhythm because my goal is to become well prepared for the upcoming important tournaments."

Need to improve after the long break

After a disappointing show at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Deepika Kumari didn't feature much in international events and announced her pregnancy in early 2022.

Three weeks after savouring motherhood, Deepika returned to the ground to pick up a bow and arrow. While she is back shooting arrows, there is still a lot on the platter for Deepika to finish following her impressive performance at the National Games.

Talking about her focus areas, Deepika said, "Earlier, my technique was very sound and most of my work was related to the mental aspect of the game. But after the long break, I have to focus on my fitness and regain the strength."

"Moreover, I have to work on my technique to bring back the impeccable hand-eye coordination," she added further.

In a sport like archery which requires strong hand-eye coordination, a big break like pregnancy and lack of practice can result in a patchy form.

"I can feel that my body is different now. There is a lot of difference between the strength I had before pregnancy and the one I have now. I didn't take much time to get back on the field but it came after a period of rest," explained Deepika.

The balancing act of being a mother and athlete

The Indian sports community is not alien to super mothers- brilliant athletes who return to the sport after having children. The likes of Mary Kom, Sania Mirza, and Dipika Pallikal have done it.

When asked about how she is managing her comeback to archery while also taking care of her daughter, Deepika admits, "It is very difficult, honestly."

"I am lucky as my in-laws are very supportive. But being a mother, my mind is with my baby most of the time. I try to balance the time distribution between archery and my family," said the 29-year-old.

Married to Asian Games medalist archer Atanu Das, Deepika underlined the importance of shared responsibilities of the new parents.

"He (Atanu) is very supportive and I am lucky to have him in my life. But at the moment, he is focusing on his career. If we get into solving the same problems, it will affect both the careers," she fleshed out.

"It is more of shared responsibilities and I count on him when I need his help, else I manage it myself," she added.

Both Atanu and Deepika failed to qualify for the ongoing Asian Archery Championships in Bangkok due to their below-par shows in the trials.

Next target: 2024 Paris Olympics

Multiple World Championships medallist, Deepika has participated in three Olympics - 2012 London, 2016 Rio, and 2020 Tokyo. Yet, she has not tasted success at the Olympics; Deepika has her eyes set on the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics.

"I am targeting the 2024 Paris Olympics as I don't have much time left. The last Olympics was in 2021 and then the break came into my life," said Deepika.

"I don't want to make mistakes in a rush and make my way carefully," she added further.

After missing the Asian Games and now the Asian Archery Championships, Deepika, however, has very few routes left. She will have to wait for the final team and individual qualification tournaments. If any Indian archers fail to win any quota place in the ongoing Asian Championships, only then she can think about a chance to qualify for the Paris Olympics.

"As I said earlier, I don't have much time left. I will keep improving my game at the national level and do well in trials. That is the best I can do," signed off Deepika.

For now, the vital question is: Will the most decorated Indian recurve archer of recent times return one last time and get what she has been deserving all along?

Well, that is something time will tell but at the moment, she masterfully strikes a harmonious balance between both aspects of her life - embracing the sacred role of a mother with tenderness and grace, she also dons the mantle of an athlete with unwavering determination and unwavering spirit.

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