Manasi Joshi, ecstatic that her hard work has translated into a gold medal for the country, believes that her victory has finally put Para-Badminton in the spotlight.
New Delhi: In 2011, Manasi Joshi had her leg amputated after a road accident in Mumbai. Eight years later, on 25 August in Basel, Switzerland, she clinched gold after beating Parul Parmar in the SL3 category at the Para-Badminton World Championships.
In between those years, what kept her going was resilience, hard work and her love for badminton.
Joshi’s win came at the same venue where, only one day earlier, P.V. Sindhu became the first Indian shuttler to win the BWF World Championships
Joshi, ecstatic that her hard work has translated into a gold medal for the country, believes that her victory has finally put Para-Badminton in the spotlight.
In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, the 30-year-old takes us through her strategy in the finals and why she doesn’t like to be referred to as differently-abled.
Q. Why did you take up this sport? How did you start playing badminton?
A. I have been playing badminton since the age of nine but it was more of a hobby than a choice to make a professional career out of it. After my accident in 2011, I did my rehabilitation as an amputee through multiple rehab techniques including this sport and decided that I should take this sport up professionally after winning a few medals at international tournaments.
Q. It takes a lot of courage to take up a sport like badminton especially when not much attention is paid to para-athletes. Do you think the mindset towards sports will change after your win?
A. I think the mindset of how people perceive para-sport slightly changed when we won four medals at the Rio Paralympics. There is a sports revolution taking place and I am happy to be a part of that.
I have received an overwhelming response and I really cannot thank everyone enough for all the love they have shown to me. I genuinely feel that this win has given the para side of the sport a lot of attention. I have been recently employed with BPCL and have two wonderful sponsors Welspun and Mallcom supporting me. I hope more corporate step up and support para-athletes.
Q. You don’t like being called differently-abled. Why is that?
A. Yes. That’s because I have never viewed myself any different from the others. I have no different abilities than any of us nor has God given me any extra power because of a disability. I too go to work, train hard every day, keep myself fit, meet friends, go out with them, travel throughout the year, and many more things. Technically, my life is no different from other people. I’d rather be called a person with a disability.
Q. Sometimes what happens is that when a para-athlete wins a tournament, the story usually goes about how difficult their journey has been and all the struggles they have gone through instead of talking about their respective sport. Are you okay with it?
A. I think it should be a balance of talking about both. My game is equally important as much as the story about my life. Every athlete who has made it to the top has his/her own share of struggle be it able-bodied or disabled. As para-athletes we keep all our focus on improving our game and not think of what we have been through. It is important for media to understand that the win was because of my hard work and dedication and not what I went through a couple of years back. It is therefore important to be sensitive about how we are asked these questions.
Q. Let’s talk about your game. How does it feel to win a gold medal? Tell us what was your mindset like before going into the championship.
To be honest, it is still sinking in. I am still getting used to being called a World Champion. It feels good to see my hard work being translated into a gold medal for the country. I was playing against Parul Parmar, No. 1 seed, when I progressed during the set, I understood that this was how I need to keep going. I concentrated more on my clears and kept my calm while playing. I was feeling in control of the shuttle and my body. Initially, I was trailing but then I got a hang of it and started progressing slowly. I kept telling myself that I had to progress one point at a time. My services were going where I intended it to be, my shots were going in the perfect manner how I wished it to be and I was in complete control. I had to drain sweat from my prosthetic twice but it helped in gaining control over my prosthetic too.
Q. You were initially trailing. Did you lose hope? Take us through your strategy.
My coaches had told me to first get used to the court, a few mistakes at the start of the game was okay but slowly get used to the timing. Once that happened, I kept on going and finally got the ending I was hoping for. After winning the first set, I became confident. I kept on securing points and at one point I had secured nine consecutive points. After that, the game was completely in my hand.
Q. How did you train to reach where you are currently?
A. Gopichand sir along with Rajendra Kumar sir designed my schedule for the World Championship. Both Rajendra sir and Hary sir worked on my skills and devoted their hundred percent to ensure that I give my best. Raju L., trainer at the academy worked on my fitness. I think the result shows how hard I have been training to reach where I am currently.
Q. Gopichand academy has given this country a lot in terms of medals. What’s so special about it? What kind of help did you get?
A. I am honoured to be a part of the academy. Pullela sir’s academy is one of the finest in the country. We have seen some great players from the academy who have gone on to make their mark in the sport at an international level in recent times. I think what makes it the finest is the fact that the coaches, physios, trainers everyone have a very focused approached for each player. The support staff is such an integral part of making this academy. They have helped me improve my training techniques to make my training more efficient. I am lucky to be a part of the academy.
Q. What now (after winning the championship)?
A. Currently, I am focusing on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics in the Mixed Doubles category with my mixed doubles partner Rakesh Pandey.
Any improvements you would like to see to support your game and others pursuing the sport?
A. As for Para-Badminton, I want more para-athletes to play the sport. I believe that we as a country have huge potential, whether it is an abled or disabled sport and can achieve so much if we have the right people to support us.