Badminton is not just my game, it’s what defines me. It’s what makes me who I am.
I started playing in Mumbai when I was 9 years old. My dad was an active player in our colony and would play outdoor badminton with his friends. (I would often join him for a game or two.)He was the one who introduced me to the game. After I started beating him and his friends, he entered me in my first ever school tournament where I secured the third place. In the following summer, I joined a summer coaching camp under Santosh Kshatriya and in exactly two months I won my first under 10 state tournament. From there on my romance with badminton began and and is still going very strong. We haven’t given up on each other.
Playing a sport is a great leveller. Like any other profession you are only as good as your form on the given day. It’s a very tough life. You work harder than ever before and there is still no guarantee that you will get the desired result. You might still lose. The only thing you have to do is get up the next day and stretch your limit of hard work. And the same logic applies to your victories. Even if you are the champion, to stay there you have to work twice as hard as your opponents. Everyone out there wants to beat you and you have to be strong enough to defend the champion tag. My sport has made me a very tough person. In all of the 14 years spent on the court I have done everything short of killing myself to achieve my goals. I have achieved a little and am trying to achieve the rest.
The life of a badminton player is a life of discipline. Your life becomes a time table. You get up at 6.30 in the morning do your meditation, you have your milk and fruits, you get to the court train there for about three hours, get back home write your journal, have lunch, then take a nap for an hour, get ready for your next session, train again for two hours ,come back have and dinner, write your journal (if you’re into writing like I am), have your milk, sleep by 10.30. You do this day in day out, six days a week. You get one Sunday to be normal, to watch a movie, to meet your friends. I have never seen this lifestyle as a sacrifice. To say the least this is the only life I know and I have no complaints. The court is my place of peace.
For me, sports is not about winning and losing. I have had my share of victories and losses and after years of experience in the sport, I have learnt to deal with that. What I find the tough to handle is the injuries that you have to face. India is not a sports-oriented country. We are slowly getting there. We still don’t have professional centres to deal with injuries. Sports injuries are totally different from the normal injuries and they have to be dealt with differently. The diagnosis and the operations may be the same but the rehabilitation and the treatment is totally different. The awareness to this kind of sports rehabilitation facility is still lacking. It’s very difficult to find personal trainers with a real knowledge about sports injuries. The very few that we might have are very difficult to spot or extremely expensive to afford, especially for a middle-class girl like me.
So when six years back I had my first major fall and broke my right knee (to be specific I had an anterior cruciate ligament tear and a completely raptured cartilage ),it was a major setback. At that point it was uncertain if I would ever compete again. I was 17years old then. I think my parents were the one who suffered much more than me. They never thought that I would play again. To tell you the truth, I never ever thought that I would let this stop me from achieving my dream of being the best I could be. When I lay on my bed on the night of the fall, I had already planned how I was going to deal with the situation. I found myself a doctor – Dr.Sundresh from the Ramaih hospital in Bangalore. I still remember our first meeting. He looked at my knee and sat down on his chair. I had gone to meet him with one of my friend’s mother as my parents were home in Pune. The first thing he said was that its pretty bad and ill need an operation. I asked him when will I play again he said it would at least take me a year to get back on the courts. I wasn’t expecting a year and I was silent for a while. He said if you really want it bad, a year would be nothing. I looked at him and I told myself just to believe him.
I got my operation done the next day. My rehab started after a week. I got my program from him and the doctors helped me till I could walk without my crutches. The real test started from there. i got back to pune and I had no idea of how to go about my rehab. I started gathering information from the doctors I knew and the internet. I also tried to speak to the senior players who had undergone such problems. I tried to find personal trainers but I couldn’t really find anyone and people I did find were too expensive. I couldn’t really burden my parents with that kind of expense, neither did I have any sponsors. It was very clear I had to find my own way out by myself.
Even though, as an outsider, this period of my life could be seen as unfortunate, it was in reality a blessing in disguise. This period of my life made me independent, It pushed my limits and showed me what I’m capable of. It made me understand how important this game is to me, and made me humble enough to realize the importance of living life for its each and every moment. the best thing that happened to me was the people I had around me. All my coaches never ever gave or showed me any sympathy. They never consoled me neither did they question my future. They told me that self pity and sympathies help no one. The only thing you have to do is ask for is solutions. You find your solutions and start working on the problems with the belief that anything done with honesty will always take you to your goal.
I followed my path and came out with flying colors. I achieved my goals of being the national champion in all the age groups and being the world no 27 in 2008 (presently im 102) and never used my injuries as an excuse. My game has taught me that if you believe in something then you just go ahead and get it. Nothing is impossible if you really want it.
Being a player you have to travel around a lot. I have today at 23years of age seen 30 to 40 nations at least . To a lot of them I have travelled alone without a team or my parents. I have explored a whole lot of countries and places. seen the culture, the food, the different languages, etc. I have always loved travelling and my game helps me do that. I am today very confident and well equipped than most of the girls my age, and my game is solely responsible for that. I can live in any condition and survive. You don’t have a choice in a foreign land. However scared you are you put up a brave face and deal with it. Nobody has the time neither the need to calm your fears.
Throughout my journey the greatest gift that my game has given me is the people I have met because of it. I have worked under Prakash Padukone, Vimal Kumar,Hemant Hardikar,and so many more .I have seen them live their lives with extreme humility and integrity. They have never let their achievements change the people they are. They have always taught me to play the game for the love of it, not really for the money or the fame. The money and the fame have always been secondary. They have dedicated their lives for the game and continue to do so even today. People like them have always raised the bar for me, not just on the court but off it too. It sometimes gets very difficult to be as good as them, but its always good to have people like them around. It has a very humbling effect on you.
I have infinite reasons to thank badminton. All I want to say is that every young kid in India has to get an opportunity to pursue a sport. Sport should be as important as academics. It builds your character, it teaches you to lose with as much grace as you do when you win. It makes you independent and helps you believe in your abilities. It makes you realize that life is not only about the glory its more about the way you chose to attain it. Its the path, the time, the sacrifices you have made to reach your goals. Its shows you the importance of a honest days work and the satisfaction you have before you sleep at night because of it. Its about those moments where everything goes against you but you don’t give up,and stand up for your dreams. Sports gives you reason to look back at your life and be really proud of it.
Today in India we have a lakh of engineers and doctors but we don’t see that kind of number in sports. We still tend to follow the easier path and follow the crowd. I am hoping after reading all that I have said I have given some of you good reasons to pick up a sport as your career.
If being good in studies gives you a good salary, being a sportsperson gets you the salary but also strengthens you to face life with all its drawbacks and sorrows .Lets help our children to choose the path less traveled and bring glory to our nation.