8 years back around this time, one day changed the lives of two people completely. In March 2008, as I qualified for Beijing Olympics and made that first call to my coach, Mr.Sandeep Gupta, our lives changed.
We started working together in 1997 and 11 years later, in 2008, together we achieved what only a few can dream of- we both made it to the Olympic Games.
Being a coach is hard, when an athlete succeeds, he/she gets all the spotlight. And when the same athlete fails, the world (sometimes the athlete himself) blames the coach.
But our relationship is different. He is not only my coach, but something more than that. He’s a friend, a mentor and a father-like figure for me.
Today, 8 years later, his life has changed, all over again.
His 2nd most priced possession (I will shamelessly claim to be his #1, forever), Manika Batra, has qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Blessed is a coach to receive a good news of that magnitude again after 8 years.
I saw him in tears when Manika won the National Championship early this January. As I hugged him tight, I felt the sense of accomplishment.
Although I am miles apart from him today to hug him again and salute his hard work and perseverance, I can feel what he’s feeling now.
He told me, “Neha, I cannot believe this”.
I said “ Sir, I knew it was coming.”
Indeed. He tells me of his struggles, what is in it for a coach working 17-18 hours towards a sport so niche in a country like India. He always has a plan. Cannot remember the last time he took his wife out for a movie, because training his students for the Olympics and other tournaments has always been outmost importance to him. His students are his number one priority, even more than his own family life.
He had a strategy, a vision, a goal very clear. He worked smart on making Manika an improved version of me. We both have the same playing style, but he taught her techniques needed to be ahead of the curve as the game continued to evolve. A playing style that is like art, he conquered it, and taught us how to master that. He is a magician. Despite ample weaknesses in both me and Manika, he bought the best out of both of us.
His struggles over the years are commendable, his ability to analyze what’s ahead is admirable.
And I assure, a whole bunch of young Olympians, National Champions are being nurtured.
From 2008 to 2016, he has come a long way. People always criticized this playing style. But that never shook his confidence, he believed in his ideas and hard work. He trusted his students.
What seemed to be impossible, he did it. Not only once (Olympics 2008), but twice. (Olympics 2016)