Suma Shirur recollects the day she first ventured into the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nineteen years again, driving on a wealthy haul from the Commonwealth and Asian Games from the previous yr, her husband tending to their two-year-old son out of doors the venue since kids weren’t allowed to wait the rite, Shirur had walked in to obtain the Arjuna award.
Two many years later, Shirur strode into the hallowed Durbar Hall once more, this time to gather a Dronacharya award, a reputation of her contribution as a trainer to para taking pictures. Shirur guided Paralympian Avani Lekhara to a 10m air rifle SH1 gold in Tokyo Paralympics closing yr.
“It was an amazing feeling. My son has grown into a young man now. Two decades have gone by. To have my family around this time to witness the moment was indeed special. My entire career flashed before my eyes,” mentioned Shirur.
She is the primary girl and handiest the 5th total to obtain the rustic’s most sensible award for coaches in taking pictures. Professor Sunny Thomas (2001), Sanjay Chakravarty (2017), Jaspal Rana (2020), and Jai Prakash Nautiyal (2021) are the opposite taking pictures coaches who’ve gained the Dronacharya up to now. Rana and Shirur are the one shooters to have finished an Arjuna-Dronacharya double, an affidavit to their excellence each as athletes and coaches.
Two of the 4 recipients — Chakravarty and Thomas — have coached Shirur at more than a few phases in her occupation. To be in the similar league as her coaches make the glory additional particular, Shirur mentioned.
“Sadly, Chakravarty sir passed away last year. He was one of my earliest coaches. He gave me one lesson that I pass on to my wards. He would tell me that I am very talented but I need to be more aggressive. You have to be a queen of Jhansi, he would often say.”
“So, that’s what I tell my students — you have to be a fighter. You have to deal with each situation bravely and with dignity. You have to learn to slug it out,” she mentioned.
A no-nonsense trainer, Chakravarty as soon as despatched a tender Shirur house as a result of he deemed she was once no longer focussed sufficient on the vary.
“He would just know when you were not mentally present. It happened to me once. He asked me to pack my bags and leave. That was a lesson I’ll never forget,” Shirur recalled.
“With time, I have developed the same instinct. I know when a shooter is not focussed, and if it were to me, I’d follow sir’s methods and send them home, but these are different times.”
Shirur has been training Lekhara in addition to the junior rifle group since 2018. Having by no means labored with a para shooter prior to, she was once first of all hesitant to groom Lekhara, however all it took was once one assembly to switch her thoughts.
“Avani had come with her father, and I found her to be extremely passionate and driven. I developed an instant liking for her and there was no way I was going to deny her a chance to learn,” mentioned Shirur.
The educating procedure became out to be rather an eye-opener. Though the fundamentals of rifle taking pictures remained the similar, Shirur needed to perceive Lekhara’s wishes.
“She is wheelchair-bound, so her balance while shooting needs to be spot on,” the trainer mentioned. That supposed Shirur needed to learn how to pump air into the wheels of Lekhara’s chair on the proper power, attune herself to her ward’s hydration and washroom breaks, and perceive when she had to be taken apart for some stretching.
“It was quite challenging, to be honest. I had to really immerse myself to understand her needs, but once I figured that out, it became a lot easier,” she mentioned.
Shirur was once a part of the training group that accompanied the 15-member squad that returned empty-handed from the Tokyo Olympics closing yr. It was once the second one successive Games when Indian shooters had did not win a medal, and the backlash, expectedly, was once harsh. As a trainer, conserving the group in excellent spirits all the way through that segment stays certainly one of her hardest duties to this point.
“It was a very young and a very talented bunch, but unfortunately we couldn’t win anything in Tokyo. After each disappointment, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the team’s morale high. As a coach, you are expected to egg on the players, but what does a coach do when she herself is losing hope?”
“All coaches tried to put up a brave face in front of the shooters, but by the time the last shooting event finished, I guess all of us knew that everyone’s spirits and morale were broken. It was not a pleasant time,” the 48 -year-old mentioned.
Shirur got here house for every week — she was once because of depart for the Paralympics later — and went on a brief seaside holiday together with her circle of relatives. The time clear of vary and scrutiny reinvigorated her for one ultimate shot at glory.
“My job was made a lot easier by Avani. She was in sublime form. Once she qualified for the final beating a tough field, I knew we were in for something special. I just told her to enjoy herself,” she remembered.
Lekhara ended up equaling the then global file ranking of 249.6 within the 10m air rifle SH1 ultimate, taking gold within the procedure. Days later, she adopted it with a bronze within the 50m 3P SH1, turning into the primary Indian shooter to win more than one medals on the Olympics or Paralympics.
Earlier this yr, the 20-year-old broke her personal 10m global file with a ranking of 250.6 on the Para Shooting World Cup in France, successful the gold medal and reserving her spot within the 2024 Paris Paralympics.
“As a coach, you can only do so much. Ultimately, the medal is won or lost by the shooter. A student can make a teacher look good or bad,” Shirur mentioned.
“Avani’s Paralympics gold will always be very special to me as it lifted the mood of the nation. She worked very hard for it. I am blessed to have been trained by some of the finest Indian and international coaches, and my biggest learning is that You never stop learning. The sport teaches you every day, and you must remain humble to accept the teachings,” she concluded.