His favourite fishing boat still in custody of the Pakistan Coast Guards after it strayed into that country's maritime zone, Khushal Salet, a sprinter from Gujarat, struggled to keep his focus during the 100m qualification round at the National Athletics Championship for the Blind.
The 26-year-old, who hails from Porbandar, is disappointed that he missed the 100m final "once again" but he looked more concerned about the Rs 60-lakh boat, which is his family's livelihood. The 2018 long jump gold medallist has never qualified for the 100m final at Nationals and he was hoping to break the jinx. It didn't happen even on Thursday, leaving him more crestfallen.
"It's difficult to come to terms with the disappointment of missing the 100m berth for which I've been training so hard. Add to that, the lingering thought that one of our three boats has been confiscated recently," Salet told PTI after his event. Thankfully, his father was not on that boat on that fateful day in September and all the arrested fishermen have since returned after serving a few months in Pakistani prison, but Khushal is not optimistic about getting back the boat.
"They send back the fishermen after 2-3 months but the boats are never returned which is causing anxiety," said the winner of four medals since he started competing in 2014. "That is my favourite boat. I used to go fishing on that boat with my dad. I have been doing it from an early age, I enjoying the sea.
Due to my condition (he competes in completely blind category T11), I cannot help my father on the job but going on those trips is the ultimate thing for me," added Salet, whose elder brother is partially blind and helps the father in the transport of the catch to the market.
On Thursday, Khushal and his guide runner Rohit Bhagadhivi gave it their all but still couldn't qualify for the final. "The long jump has given me a lot of success but unfortunately, I can't figure out why the 100m final spot has been eluding me for so many years," said Khushal, who is also preparing for banking services exams.
Asked how he got interested into sports, Salet said in 2011, he competed in the 'Khel Mahakumbh' in his city after his father enrolled him in the sprint events. A medal there fuelled his desire to pursue the sport further and he got himself enrolled at a training centre for visually-impaired sport persons in Porbandar.
Three years later, in 2014, he qualified for the first Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) National Championship and represented his state. Salet is now hoping he can return home with a gold in his favourite event -- long jump.
"I have already started counting 11 steps to the touchline in my mind and can clearly hear my guide's clap, signalling I have to be airborne," said Kushal, as his mind's eye wanders once again into nothingness. Perhaps it is the sea, or his business which has been hit by the boat getting confiscated.
Or, perhaps, it is the thought that once again he will be going home without qualifying for the 100m final. "I don't have high expectations; just one international competitive trip and the return to the sea on my (confiscated) boat, that's all I want now," adds Khushal, who is blind by birth.