From poverty to podium — How Achinta Sheuli is lifting his way to eye-popping success
Achinta's success in weightlifting has earned him a job with the Army and he is now determined to lift the family out of poverty.
For a fleeting moment, Achinta Sheuli was beset by self-doubt. Having comfortably lifted 137kgs in his first attempt in the Snatch, the 19-year old faltered in his second at 141kgs. Achinta had been lifting that weight comfortably in training but in that moment, in the high-pressure environment of the Junior World Championships, he made an inexplicable technical error. The coaching staff only had a couple of minutes to decide whether they would stay with the original plan of raising the weight to 143kgs for the third attempt, a mark he had been consistently achieving in training, or stick with the 141kgs he had just slipped up on.
"You have been lifting this weight in training easily," Achinta remembers hearing a whisper from a coach in his ears as prepared to return to the stage, having decided to stay with 141kgs for the third and final attempt. "You can do it easily in competition as well, just go out there and give it your best attempt."
And just like that, all doubt evaporated. The third attempt was executed smoothly, as were the three subsequent ones in the Clean & Jerk, with Achinta registering 166, 169 & 172kgs. With a total of 313kgs, Achinta had claimed silver in the 73kgs category, behind Rizki Juniansyah of Indonesia who totalled 349kg to win the gold medal.
17 competitors from 15 countries had assembled in Tashkent for the championships and on the flight back home, the teenager from Howrah in West Bengal, could finally reflect on what he had achieved. He had set new national records in both the Snatch and Clean & Jerk in his weight category, improving his overall personal best mark by four kilograms, another national record.
"It was only after my last lift of 172kgs that I knew a medal was secure," he says. "More than the result, it was the performance that made me happy. That is my focus, to continue improving my performances, and the medals will be a by-product"
Achinta's introduction to weightlifting was quite accidental
Chasing kites one day as a 10-year old, he found himself at a local gym where his older brother Alok practiced the sport. The family was poverty-stricken – Father Jagat would ply a cycle rickshaw and find work as a labourer to make ends meet. Tragedy struck in 2013, when he suddenly passed away after a stroke, forcing Alok to abandon his dreams of becoming a competitive weightlifter and take on the family's financial responsibilities. Mother Purnima took up odd jobs as a tailor to put food on the table, even as Achinta started to show the first signs of his ability as a weightlifter. He fondly recalls winning silver at a district-level competition in 2012 and a year later, finished fourth at the Sub Junior Nationals in the 50kg category, his first national level competition.
"I used to save whatever money I could to secure a better diet for Achinta," recalls Alok. "He started training at a makeshift facility at a local farm, where there was very little equipment or training facilities."
Despite the hardships, Achinta continued to progress, making his first major splash by winning silver at the Commonwealth Youth Championships in 2015 in the 56kg category. Three years later, having moved to the 69kg category, he won silver at the Asian Youth Championships, followed by Gold in both the junior and senior divisions at the Commonwealth Championships, and another Gold in the senior age group at the SAF Games in 2019, despite being only 18 at the time. The weightlifting community was enthralled by his potential as he stormed to the senior National Gold in the same year, although was still only a junior.
Included in Reliance Foundation Youth Sports
It was blindingly obvious that Achinta was a generational talent that needed careful nurturing to ensure he reaches full potential. In 2019, Achinta was included in the newly introduced elite athlete scholarship program by Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS). Since then, besides providing financial support, the program has ensured a dedicated sports Physiotherapist and Sports science specialists are available with Achinta at all times, including when he travels. Specialists from the Sports Science & Medicine (SSM) team at the Sir H.N Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai have also focused on critical areas such as nutrition, strength & conditioning, psychology and data management & analysis to provide the cutting edge Achinta needs in the pursuit of international success.
"The biggest challenge in weightlifting is to remain free of injury and make sure our nutrition is handled in a scientific manner," says Achinta. "I am extremely grateful to the SSM team from the Sir H.N Reliance Foundation Hospital in keeping me fit and free of injury."
The SSM specialists working with Achinta have focused on identifying specific aspects in his training regimen to target consistent improvement in performances. For instance, it was observed that Achinta was unable to generate enough power in the movement before the jerk in his routine due to lack of Lumbo-Pelvic stability. His knees would cave inwards while lifting heavy weights, causing difficulties in his movement while executing the clean routine. Focused work on his core, shoulders, adductor, glutes and hamstring allowed Achinta to move better, and he improved on his personal best mark by 2kgs in both the Snatch and Clean & Jerk at the Junior World Championships. Hip mobility exercises have been a specific area of focus, and both Achinta and the SSM team have observed "significant improvement" over the last two years in his overall power markers.
"Achinta is very sincere and committed to the sport"
On the performance mindset front, it was observed that despite being highly motivated and an athlete that embodies the "never give up" spirit, Achinta would be anxious and nervous before the start of a competition. Over the last couple of years, he made drastic improvements in these aspects as well, after a carefully calibrated regimen that included visualisation, confident body language gestures & posture, positive self-talk and deep breathing. Achinta is now able to focus on setting goals and coping with adversity and keeping his eyes on the big picture target he has set for himself at a competition. In addition, the nutrition specialists have designed a three pronged approach targeted towards competition day, weight management and recovery, identifying the food products and supplements that work best for Achinta's body type.
Armed with the multi-dimensional expertise now at his disposal and buoyed by his most recent accomplishments, Achinta is now identifying his short and long term goals. The immediate target is to win Gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year and give his "best possible performance" at the 2024 Olympics. In the long term, Achinta is determined to follow in the footsteps of his heroes – Five time World Champion Lü Xiaojun from China, Olympic and World Champion Sohrab Moradi from Iran and India's very own World Champion Mirabai Chanu.
"Achinta is very sincere and committed to the sport," observes National coach Vijay Sharma. "He is very ambitious and wants to achieve big things for the country. I also find him to be very disciplined, both on and off the field. He is also a quick learner and is able to grasp suggestions and implement it on the platform in training and competition."
Like any other teenager, Achinta enjoys watching films and riding motorcycles in his spare time. His success has earned him a job with the Army and Achinta is determined to lift the family out of poverty. Alok, who remains a pillar of support, is currently a contractual employee with the Howrah Fire Brigade, earning a meagre income to meet the family's needs. The challenges remain, but less than a decade since he first stumbled into a weightlifting arena, Achinta Sheuli finds himself on the cusp of becoming an athlete of international repute with a support system in place to help him realise dreams that were once thought to be impossible.