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Pooja Arthi: Rising Star of Indian Squash Sets Sights on Olympic Glory

From her humble beginnings to triumphs at the Khelo India Youth Games earlier this year, discover how Pooja aims to represent India at the LA 2028 Summer Olympics

Pooja Arthi: Rising Star of Indian Squash Sets Sights on Olympic Glory

Indian squash sensation Pooja Arthi in action (Source: The New Indian Express)


Sukanya Adhikary

Published: 16 Feb 2024 7:40 AM GMT

Pooja Arthi, a rising star in the realm of squash, started 2024 on a high after bagging Gold at the 6th Khelo India Youth Games. Runners-up at the National Games last year, Pooja aims to play at the LA 2028 Summer Olympics. In an exclusive interview with the Bridge, she shares insights into her journey and how she has grown over the years.

Pooja's journey into squash began when her brother showed interest in the squash court right behind the swimming pool, where he used to train. Leaving Pooja completely alone at home, worried her parents, hence she was also put up to play the sport along with her brother.

After learning about squash luminaries like Saurav Ghosal, Joshna Chinappa, and Deepika Pallikal, her hobby turned into her passion. “Watching them play squash for India made me fall in love with the sport. I got inspired by them and I started playing better,” Pooja said.

Pooja is currently pursuing her college degree from M.O.P. Vaishnav College for Women, Chennai. She is in her first year and credits her college for its unwavering support, which helps her accommodate both training and academics into her everyday routines seamlessly. Her college has even offered “ to help me by providing funds if I want to go abroad and train,” she said.

Typically, her day is packed up with training sessions that begin at 7:30 AM, to academic sessions that start around 10 AM and continue till the afternoon. Her final training session begins at around 3 PM, which ends in almost 3 hours and then she is back home.

Reflecting on her breakthrough year in 2023, Pooja shares the emotional journey of overcoming setbacks to clinch her first national and international medals. Despite initial disappointments in previous tournaments, her perseverance and resilience ultimately propelled her to victory at the Khelo India Youth Games 2024 in Chennai. With the invaluable support of her hometown crowd in Tamil Nadu, she secured two gold medals in the individual and team events, establishing her status as a rising star in Indian squash.

HCL, according to her, has revolutionized squash in India. Their coaching programs have provided a platform for aspiring athletes to upgrade their skills and compete at the international level. “HCL conducts PSA tournaments four to five times a year, which helps me in leveling up my game, and also allows me to hold a better ranking,” Pooja added.

Additionally, the HCL Squash Podium Program, which started in 2019, has ensured scientific support such as providing nutrition guides and psychological counseling to players. During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual coaching and support by HCL have ensured continuity in training for athletes like her. “When you are a part of such an environment, it helps you understand your shortcomings, and work on them accordingly,” Pooja added.

“When I was in the Asian Junior camp, in 2019, HCL got foreign coaches to analyze the games for two to three days. They corrected our mistakes and suggested better techniques to help us get better as players,” Pooja said, addressing their unique approaches in training.

In camps, different players can train together, which helps in creating bonds and overall improvement, “When I am in my home, I train alone. However, when there is a camp by HCL, we have other Indian players playing, and we get to train with them,” she added.

Sporting legacy runs in the blood of Pooja’s family. Her mother, C Amudha, is a former Asian triathlon gold medallist, and her father M Raghu is a national diving champion. Her parents have been her biggest support system, celebrating her ups and cheering her up during the downs. “When I lose, they look after me more because they know what it feels like after losing a game. They have also been in that stage. They'll take more care of me when I lose any tournaments or any matches,” she remarked.

Improving and rectifying mistakes is what any athlete needs to do to balance both success and failure. Pooja makes sure to go back to her matches, and rewatch them to analyze and find out what is missing in her game. She looks back at her gameplay very often- where she has dropped points. “I revisit my gameplay after a match. It helps me identify my mistakes, so that the next time, when I play, I don't make the same errors,” Pooja said. Just like other racket sports, squash is also about being extremely quick in the field. It is known to be one of the healthiest sports in the world, as it pushes players’ agility, power, and balance to the limit.

As Pooja's journey continues to unfold, her story serves as an inspiration to young aspiring athletes across the nation. Like any other athlete, Pooja aims to take part in the Olympics. With squash included in the lineup for the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Olympics, she harbors dreams of representing India on the world stage and bringing home a medal. Pooja Arthi sets an example that endless possibilities await those who are willing to pursue their aspirations, as she prepares to make her mark in the pages of Indian sporting history.

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