Locked in their homes or hostel rooms might be the story of most Indian athletes amid the COVID-19 pandemic but Tokyo Paralympics-bound shuttler Palak Kohli has managed to continue full training by putting up a makeshift court at her residential society in Lucknow. The 17-year-old from Jalandhar was initially training at national coach Gaurav Khanna's academy in the Uttar Pradesh capital along with nine other players but eight left for their homes just in time before the national lockdown to contain the virus came into effect in mid-March.
She then rented a flat at the outskirts of Lucknow and Khanna helped her in putting up a makeshift court at a nearby park complete with lighting facility to facilitate training at night. "I am training two shifts everyday. Because of daytime heat, I start at 6am with physical training and then play at the court till 8:30am and in the evening it's also 6-8:30pm training," Palak told PTI.
"Khanna sir stays nearby and he is there every session. So, I am not missing any training due to lockdown. With most of athletes confined to their homes or rooms, I think I am lucky to be able to train. When lockdown is lifted I won't be starting from scratch and I feel I will have the advantage going into Paralympics," said the youngster, who has a deformed left hand by birth. Palak is certain to make the cut for Tokyo Paralympics in women's doubles as she is currently ranked fifth in the world. The top six in the list to be published by International Paralympic Committee will get automatic qualification.
"Out of 13 qualification tournaments, 12 were completed and the last one was cancelled due to COVID-19. Out of the 13, a shuttler has to compete in at least six. I am now 5th and top six get automatic qualification. So, I am a certainty for Tokyo Paralympics," said the teen. Palak's coach Khanna said, "Given that Palak is ranked 5th in women's doubles in the qualification events held in 2019-2020, she has attained required eligibility to qualify for Paralympics in SL3-SU5 women's doubles."
Palak Kohli (Source: Amandev Joshi/Facebook)
SL3 category is meant for those who compete with a "standing/lower limb impairment/minor" while SU5 features para-athletes with "standing/upper limb impairment". Palak is currently ranked 10th in women's singles in SU5 category. The 12th standard student at DAV School in Jalandhar made her national debut last year and she has already won four BWF international tournament medals during the Tokyo Paralympics qualification competitions.
She won the women's doubles title with Parul Parmar at the Uganda Para International Tournament last year. "I am not complaining as I am getting full training here. Had I gone back to Jalandhar, I would have been confined at home because of the lockdown. Here I am able to do full training," she said. "We are also following social distancing norms, we have kept sanitisers with us during training and we keep distance while doing warm ups. We talk from a distance. Moreover, it's a gated society, nobody comes in and goes out without permission."
Palak is being supported by the Welspun Super Sport Women's Programme and has also recently signed up with sports marketing company Meraki Sport and Entertainment.
She is also supported by the Olympic Gold Quest Programme. "The rent for the room and other day-to-day expenditure is being taken care of by my sponsors, so I am not having any financial issues. My only aim is to win a Paralympic medal and I am confident of doing that and making the country proud." she signed off.