When you are born into a family where every rupee matters, you need to be braver than the others. You have two options, one is to run away from the obstacles that life hurls towards you and the other is to take on the challenges and make something out of it. Sometimes, doing that lands you a spot in the Olympics. Life can be funny that way.
Believe me, back in the early 2000s when I was just barely making ends meet, Olympics was definitely not on my mind. What I wanted to do was earn a national medal that would help me get a secure job. I needed that to take care of my family which my father’s meager pension was failing to do.
Where I grew up, in Uttarakhand, my school was 7km away from my village and my sole means of transportation were my feet. I had to walk 14 km a day and I must say a lot of practice in race walking happened without really me having a choice in the matter. However, as a school kid I had no idea that this was a legitimate event, beyond the annual sports day, which is incidentally where I won my first medal in this event.
Once I learnt that I could use my speed walking abilities to take part in a national tournament, I realised that it would enable me to apply for government jobs on the basis of a sports quota. In 2011, things finally moved in my favour and I was appointed as a constable.
Before getting this position, my family really had to struggle. I picked up whatever odd jobs that would come my way to keep the family running. From working on the farm to going about the village selling milk to all the households or working as a waiter, I took up whatever work that would come my way.
My village is tucked away from the main Uttarakhand tourist spots and when I could I worked as a porter. A lot of tourists were eager to visit a temple that was around 22 km from my village and I gladly worked as a guide for them. I had no idea how these hardships were preparing me for the most rewarding moment if my life till date.
Thankfully, being in a government school, the teachers stopped being uptight once you crossed the 10th standard threshold. So in my last two years in school, I managed to wing all kinds of privileges and trained and took part in competitions whenever I needed to. My teachers always had my back.
After I got my job in 2011, I became a lot more relaxed but Olympics was still so nowhere in my mind. Everything happened so fast and cut to 2015, all of a sudden I was a potential Olympian. It is important to understand that it’s not just your physical training that is put under the radar before events like this. You need to train yourself mentally.
I decided to take my shot and I can’t say I did very poorly. With the extremely minimal preparations that I had, I did not think I would finish 13th in an Olympic event where serious athletes train their whole lives. My aim was only to qualify and take part in the event.
But this attitude needs to change in India. Qualifying and simply being satisfied with the tag of an Olympian is not enough, you need to motivate yourself to do better than that. This motivation came to me only after GoSports Foundation happened to me. They are the ones who put me on the right track.
I am extremely confident about India being a storehouse of talent. Candidly speaking, I really do believe that if athletes here got the infrastructure, diet, gear that athletes in the West do, I can lay down my life on the fact that India can win medals, a lot more than we have done in the past.
The Commonwealth Games are only three weeks away and I am aiming for a gold medal finish. When I was watching Olympics on TV back in 2012, if I had any idea that I would be on that track in another four years, it would have been better. That is not the case for the upcoming Commonwealth Games and I really do not want to leave any stones unturned.
I’m not going to lie, I do not think the athletes in other countries are too far ahead of us in terms of talent. But they are eons ahead in terms of equipment, facilities and so on. There is no doubt that with the same resources, Indian can certainly shine as bright as any other nation.
Think about it. There was only a small difference between me and the bronze medalist, with less than a year’s preparation. Imagine what a medal oriented training from a young age can do to us, I am only one instance.
For the next Olympics, I do not have excuses like lack of motivation or lack of time to prepare. So it is highly possible that I will perform better than I did. Now with GoSports Foundation taking care of my funding, I can devote my entire salary to the well being of my family and train without worrying. I’d be lost without their support.
There are so many children who are probably far better than me. There are boys in my village who walk 44 km a day. I never worked so hard. But I have always been extremely lucky in terms of my family and teachers who only wanted me to do well.
Right now, I am trying to repay by lending support to the youngsters in my village. Working five times harder than I do, from such a young age, there is no limit to how much they can achieve. I can’t be around all the time to train them but I do as much as possible. In fact, two of the Khelo India medalists in speed walking are from my village. It feels good to see the talent of young people recognised.
Having never had the kind of motivation that is required as a child, I try to ensure that these children don’t lose their focus. I have mentioned several times how this particular sport has a funny posture and I don’t want the kids to be self conscious about it. On some level, me being present does boost their confidence.
A lot is changing in terms of making life easier for us athletes. We get a roof over our heads, food on our plates. It’s only a matter of fine tuning things now, improving quality, things like that. These are the only things that separate an Olympic participant from an Olympic medallist. Once this is taken care, India will be nothing less of a force to contend. It’s the little things that make the big differences.
Change in the mindset is also something that has improved by leaps and bounds over the last ten years. Now, no one laughs when I walk past them, but they point and show others that that is their village’s Olympian walking. One medal could do wonders to the already improving outlook.
I hope parents of aspiring athletes understand that it is not always money that matters. My mother had no idea that walking could be a profession. When I became serious about it, I didn’t even have a cell phone to show to her that this is what I wanted to do. But what is so beautiful is that I did not have to. She did not care what I was doing as long as I was satisfied. All she had to say was ‘Beta, jo karna hai karle..bas galat kaam mat karna.’ Honestly, that is all I needed to hear from her. I knew her way of showing me support was making sure I was well fed!
I may have had a lot of hardships to conquer in life and there may have been times that I wished I had someone to guide me. But if I have been able to overcome all of that, it is because of the support I have received from the people around me.
Now that I have the steady salary of a constable and I have married off all three siblings like a responsible son and brother, I have a lot less pressure to deal with. I want to use that to my advantage and create history at the 2020 Olympics and etch my name in India’s Olympic history.