"Hope the athletes remember us," says Utkarsh Kulshreshtha, the Kolkata Thunderbolts Head physio
A physiotherapist from Jaipur, Utkarsh wants to bring awareness of the discipline to the grassroots and fulfill his mission.
The Kolkata Thunderbolts faced their first defeat of the Prime Volleyball League 2023 after Calicut Heroes pipped them in a 3-2 victory. The defending champions would hope that this setback is just an aberration, which prevented them from collecting four wins on the trot.
Nonetheless, the Ashwal Rais and the Vinit Kumars rose elegantly, spiked hard, and blocked right, despite being on the losing side. But how do they remain consistent game-in, game-out? It's because of a physiotherapist from Jaipur.
Dr. Utkarsh Kulshreshtha, the head physio of the Kolkata Thunderbolts, is an important cog in the machine which has its eyes set on a consecutive league title. "There are so many physios out there in different fields, hospitals, clinics, but I wanted to explore. Being a sports geek, I found my way here," he told The Bridge.
Kulshreshtha joined the Thunderbolts ahead of the new season, and seeing that Kolkata are placed second on the table with three wins out of four, the doctor seems to be doing his job quite well. However, he feels that this is normal in a league of such status.
This is what he calls the 'awareness of physiotherapy in sport'. "When we look at big tournaments like leagues or state competitions, obviously there is awareness about physiotherapy. It is when we look at the same players when they play more local tournaments that it's not there," Utkarsh informed.
Physiotherapy, a discipline, which is so pivotal nowadays to an athlete's overall performance, doesn't find a place in all the levels of the pyramid of the sporting structure, opines Dr. Utkarsh. He elucidates with an example close to home.
"Colvin shield is a state cricket competition which happens in Rajasthan. The other teams from the state which were coming from different districts didn't have physiotherapists. The tournament featured a lot of U-19 players, senior national team campaigners, and even IPL players. When players were struggling with little niggles, they were applying just ice," he explained his observations.
This is where Utkarsh wants to make a difference. "Ye awareness grassroots tak jani chahiye (This awareness should reach the grassroots as well). This is my muheem (mission), what I want to do for the physiotherapist community and for the athletes. I'm trying to help that athlete from the small village whose persistent injury prevents him from playing, who needs to depend on painkillers," a passionate Utkarsh said.
And so, the doctor from the west is doing just that. In his clinic called 'Rehabit', which is located in Jaipur, his team treats athletes from different walks of life, from different disciplines, and most sans charges!
"Almost 60-70 percent of the athletes we treat are not being charged anything, especially our female athletes. Yashasvi Katta, one of our athletes, was recently called up for the U19 national cricket team camp," a proud Utkarsh informed.
"We have 6-7 physios, strength conditioning coaches, yoga teachers, psychologists, and nutritionists. We just hope that the athletes we help remember us when they make it, when they reach success. People thank their parents, their coaches, but I'd also like to add that physios too play an important role in their journey," he added.
Kulshreshtha and his team have begun to try and ignite sparks of change, and what better place than to begin at home. " We set camps in Rajasthani villages where sport is popular. We provide them with our contact numbers and try to guide them via video conferences and tell them what to do and what not to do.
Our next would be to provide exercise bands, ice bags, and other equipment to these athletes hailing from remote villages," he said.
Male v/s Female - the physio approach
Utkarsh feels that when it comes to availing physiotherapy, male athletes are more direct and blunt about their injuries and the help they require. When it comes to the female athletes, they tend to step towards it with trepidation and a certain degree of fear.
"Female athletes who are already playing at the top level have their own team of phsyios, nutritionists, etc. Those who are just starting out, or are playing state level, I feel are scared to reveal their injuries. They feel if the news spreads then they might not get selected," Utkarsh said.
Many might argue that female athletes would be more comfortable around female physiotherapists, but the Thunderbolts doctor doesn't agree.
"As a doctor, there isn't and shouldn't be gender bias when it comes to injuries. Many gynecologists are male," he counter-pointed.
Getting the clientele
While Utkarsh is enjoying life in the Prime Volleyball League and doesn't miss a chance to passionately cheer or send out heart signs after Kolkata wins a point, it wasn't always so easy for him. He'd started his career back in 2020, and back then, he had to toil to win the trust of players.
"I have my own clinic in Jaipur, 'Rehabit' which is a physiotheraphy and sports injury centre in Jaipur. Initially I was going to treat players but couldn't connect with them. I went to different academies, cricket, volleyball, badminton, swimming, and set up camps. I showed my work to them, free of cost," he recalled his early days.
Thankfully, many clients liked my work and motivated me to go to the next level. Kulshreshtha also has experience helping players in the Maldives Volleyball League, before he joined the Ahmedabad Defenders in PVL's inaugural season.
"Sport is all about contacts and your work. If your work is good and you don't have contacts then it means nothing. I got connected with volleyball player Lovemeet Katariya, and cricketers like Kamlesh Nagarkoti, who then helped me get connected with team managers," he added.
According to his LinkedIn account, Utkarsh is contracted with Kolkata Thunderbolts for the next two seasons as well. If the team manages to defend their title, know that Dr. Kulshreshtha did his due dilligence.