Amid Thomas Cup triumph celebrations, Deaflympics shuttler Jerlin Anika quietly achieves rare feat
The 18-year-old hearing-impaired shuttler from Madurai achieved something unique - three gold medals at the Summer Deaflympics
While the country is rejoicing its badminton team's historic Thomas Cup triumph in Bangkok, J Jerlin Anika is another Indian shuttler who has been making waves with her unprecedented gold-medal winning feat in Deaflympics in Brazil.
The 18-year-old hearing-impaired shuttler from Madurai also achieved something unique -- three gold medals at the 24th Summer Deaflympics at Caxias do Sul in Brazil, just a few days before the Indian men's team dethroned Indonesia to become the Thomas Cup champions. Anika secured a gold each in women's singles, mixed doubles and mixed team event.
Three gold medals is a huge achievement in any sport or tournament but not for Jerlin as she rued missing out of a fourth gold on offer. "She is not happy as she missed out on the women's doubles gold. She hates losing and when we were leaving Brazil, she asked me why people are congratulating me, I could not return with all the four golds," J Jeya Ratchagen, Anika's father, told PTI during an interaction.
Anika beat Australia's K Neudolt for the singles gold medal, while in the mixed doubles event, she and Abhinav Sharma clinched the yellow metal by getting the better of Malaysia's Edmund Seng Keong Teo and Wei Ying Boon. She also played a crucial role in India beating Japan 3-1 to win the mixed team gold medal.
The road to success wasn't an easy one for Anika and it was her dotting father who ensured that she has a normal childhood after he realised that she can't hear or speak. Badminton opened up doors as she started showing interest in the sport after Jeya Ratchagen used to take her with him to a local club where he used to play along with his friends. "She started training under coach P Saravanan at Bose academy in Madurai as an 8-year-old. He used to train with the normal kids but after seeing her, he started learning ways to communicate with her," Jeya Ratchagan, who is into small scale business, said.
Anika's mother is just a house wife. While Olympics and Paralympics are quite popular, Jeya Ratchagen wasn't aware of Deaflympics and it was during a local tournament in 2017 that an official from Madurai district administration told him about it and that's how her journey towards glory started. Soon, Anika, as a 13-year-old, secured fifth place as the youngest player in her maiden appearance at 2017 Deaflympics in Turkey and went on to win two silver and a bronze at Asia Pacific Badminton Championship in 2018 in Malaysia. A year later, she returned with a gold, two silver and a bronze from the World Deaf Badminton Championship in China.
However, for Jeya Ratchagan, who comes from a humble background, it was a struggle to provide her with proper nutrition and sports accessories due to lack of fund. In 2019, Jerlin's prowess in badminton was recognised by HCL Foundation's 'Sports for Change' initiative and she was enrolled as a sports scholar under the Power of One (PO1) My Scholar Project. She received a scholarship, which helped her to take care of her kits, nutritional and other logistic requirements.
"She received a scholarship of Rs 3.25 lakh and we also supported the travel of her coach and father to accompany her for the Deaflympics. We are just happy to play a small role in her success," said HCL Foundation Director Nidhi Pundhir. The Foundation also stepped in when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020 to ensure that her training doesn't get affected. Soon, virtual sessions were conducted, special permission for her on-court training was sought and all these helped her as she emerged as one of the decorated athletes at the Deaflympics last week.
Anika, who has no other interests apart from the racquet sport, has now set her eyes on the world championships in 2023 in Brazil. However, her next big hurdle is the class 12 board examination. "She hates studies but she will have to sit for her class 12 board exams in 15 days time, so she is bit nervous," Jeya Ratchagen signs off.