One word I have heard a lot for the past few months is “impossible”. After the unfortunate timing of my appendicitis operation- it happened right before the Commonwealth Games, medical experts dealing with my case told me that it would be right to wait a year before I started actively competing on the circuit again.
A year out of my game would have slowed down my progress in a way that would have made a comeback very, very difficult.
Does beating those odds sound impossible? I do not let that word enter my system.
My father and my mother are both International athletes. As a result, being born into a family with a sports background acted as a catalyst in shaping up my career as a long jumper. I grew up around my uncles who used to run a lot each day, they were fitness freaks, and accompanying them during the childhood inculcated a habit of running in me. It was pure leisure back then, but it ultimately led me to athletics.
Soon, I started participating in competitive tournaments and won a few of them too!
I faced a lot of problems during that time because I was young and my height did not help me at all. Nevertheless, I showed signs of drastic improvement
I began my career as a sprinter but changed tracks around the age of 13. The switch from long strides to long jumps was a life-changing decision indeed! But it came with its costs. Strict discipline was the rule in my house. Watching Television after 11 pm was strictly prohibited. But yes, I never worried about academics and marks because I was a bright student.
Balancing the whole act has never been easy, but focusing on both studies and sports is the only how it works in the country. I was an engineering student. After my first semester exams, I had a lot of International tournaments and also the Federation Cup followed by the operation. I even dropped out from engineering since the University did not support sports and shifted to B.Sc in Mathematics.
The school system in this country does not allow for much room to explore- especially with the schedule of competitions and training we go through. Unless you’re fortunate and get all the necessary and deserved support, in most case, you need to choose. And the choice is not always easy.
But this is how I got by for the longest time. I think my first breakthrough came quite recently. A 7.99-metre jump at the Federation Cup at Patiala was a remarkable feat, just a centimetre short from being the only 6th Indian to achieve the 8-metre mark. It put me in a favourable place for a berth in the India contingent for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Several things happened in that little span. Administrative errors and then, of course, that fateful appendicitis operation.
During the operation I was hospitalised for eight weeks, it was not a normal appendicitis operation as the organ had burst and the situation became critical. I never thought I would make a comeback before two years- that’s what the doctors agreed upon. Thankfully, I managed to get back to normal after a tough journey. You need to have a healthy mind and a lot of patience to recover from a position which I overcame, where even my doctors gave me little hope of resuming my career anytime soon!
“If you want to participate in the Asian Games and win medals for India, you have to set up your mind and be strong,” said my father during that time.
The words inspired me a lot, and soon I took the field and started jogging. But it was only half an hour per session, that’s the most I could manage keeping aside the breathing problems I encountered. My father has been my coach from Day 1; I still follow his routine in the National camp.
I got ambitious. I had to. There was no way I was letting this injury put a dent in my athletics career. I aimed at a medal during the junior world meet barely a few months after that, but I did not live up to my expectations.
Disappointed at that moment, I convinced myself that it was sports after all and everything can’t be won. That’s past now; the Asian Games is what is looking forward to right now, it’s a more significant state that the Junior Championships, and I am aiming no less than a podium finish at the mega event.
During my recovery, I had lost all my muscular strength; it is quite natural when someone loses 6-7 kgs of body weight in a week. My dad and I worked on our practice schedule, consulting the sports doctors was also a significant part. India lacks sufficient sports doctors who are a drawback and is an area which should have a lot more attention paid to it. I still have a lot to achieve; maybe that’s why I was reluctant to celebrate when I stood third in Gifu, Japan with a jump of 7.47 metres.
It was a huge leap from the junior level to the senior circuit; it is a whole new arena. When I see the jumpers from other countries, the record in just extraordinary with jumps of 8.2 and 8.4, I need to up the ante to even compete with them. The Cuban and the South Africans have been performing consistently; it will take a beating to establish myself with the big boys. More practice time should be carved out from the existing schedule coupled with hard work, which according to me is the only secret to success at this level!
Due to the lack of infrastructure, we are failing to compete at the International level, and that needs to improve. The way nee talents are coming up, it should be taken care that they get the top most facilities during their training. Development in the grassroots is the only way forward for the Indian athletes. The 7.99-metre jump during the Federation Cup was a remarkable feat considering the lack of infrastructure back in my hometown. I topped the junior world rankings then, which was unbelievable. But all the plans collapsed after these health issues struck me.
We were sorted about what to do that season, and my dad thought that the year was going to be a memorable one, but fate had other plans. It robbed me of an Asian junior Gold medal and a World Junior Gold medal too! At the present moment, I am aiming for a podium finish at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. But to attain that, I need to break the 8-metre barrier. My personal best in 7.99 metres which needs to cross in the coming days which will help me a lot to win a medal at the Asiad.
The thing about the Indian sports circuit is that its very rare to find the exact, right amount of support you need to make it big. I would consider myself quite lucky in that respect. My parents aside, I found a senior- Ankit Sharma. I look up to him, I completely idolise him. It’s always good when a senior takes you under their wing. That belief matters the most. Additionally, support also came through in the form of JSW. Recently, I started training with Frenchman Antony Yaich, who came on board as Head Coach for Track and Field at IIS, Vijayanagar. It has done wonders for my form.
I am a lot more confident now. They say that to scale the highest heights; you must first learn how to stumble. And a stumble this early on in my career has helped me grow not only as an athlete but also as a person. It’s good to have a plan in place- the way my father has. But your true test comes when you need to react on the spur of the moment. Your decisions define who you are.
At least that is what I believe and live by.