Naresh Kumar Sharma- Shooting his way to the top
‘ I was destined to be a shooter and nothing else’
Naresh Kumar Sharma- Shooting his way to the top
Naresh Kumar Sharma’s life is an inspirational chronicle of determination and perseverance; of courage and hope. His is a story of overcoming the myriad challenges life throws to emerge stronger and successful – a true winner.
Naresh is a veteran shooter who has ably represented India in various international sports competitions for over two and a half decades, a very long time in professional sport. Staying accomplished for so long in such a competitive environment speaks volumes of his grit and resolve.
Naresh holds a proud place in the Limca Book of Records for being the only para sportsperson to have represented India in various shooting events at the Paralympics.
Notably, in his long and successful global sporting career he has won over 60 medals making the nation proud. In 2015, he also became the first para athlete from India to get a quota for the 2016 Rio Paralympics on the basis of his strong showing at the IPC Shooting World Cup at Fort Benning, United States.
Naresh Kumar Sharma has been honoured by the Government of India with the prestigious Arjuna Award in 1997 for his stellar contributions and accomplishments in the shooting arena. We caught up with this inspiration of a man to learn his story.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
I’ve been in shooting for past twenty-five years and have participated in several Paralympic games. I was fifth at the Beijing Paralympics, 2008. I believe, every event, be it national or international, has made me proud. I’ve worked very hard to reach here. Every competition is equally important to me.
How did you feel when you won the Arjuna award in 1997?
It was a great feeling for me and my family. It’s a great achievement.
How many hours do you train daily and how important is training for you?
I train for approximately eight hours each day.
When and why did you start your sports practice?
I started competing as a pistol shooter, even before I became differently abled. I’ve thus participated in both abled as well as differently-abled categories. I believe, I was destined to become a shooter and nothing else.
How old were you when you began shooting and what caught your interest?
I was around twenty-three when I started my shooting career. I believe I was just destined to become a shooter. I trained under an Australian coach and the National Rifle Association of India encouraged me, by presenting me with pistols.
What was your motivation to pursue professional shooting?
The passion to compete with myself, to do something different and big, was my dream. This was also my motivation.
What has been the contribution or support of your family and society in your sports career?
My family has been a great pillar of support throughout my career. However, from society at large, I have received a mixed response. While some have been supportive, I’ve heard a few others saying, “When the abled can’t shoot properly, how can the differently-abled do it?” Through my example, I have sought to demonstrate that with hard work, a person can achieve anything in life.
What do you love the most about shooting?
I love my sport, it has given me everything. It has given me name and fame. It is also my bread and butter.
How do you prepare yourself for competitions?
Typically, we start training 4 to 5 months before the competition. However, training and infrastructure are important development areas across para sports in the country. We should work to create more facilities for para sportspersons and give them more exposure through regular training and orientation camps, at par with those in the abled category.
What specific preparations are involved in shooting?
For a shooter, the preparations before the game is very intense and consumes a lot of time. Shooting also requires a lot of equipment, as well as peripherals such as jackets, chairs, tables etc, which can be expensive. Being an individual game, performance in shooting totally depends on the effort and hard work you put in. Also, unlike athletics, there are no different medals or categories for shooting. It is all combined – men, women, abled and differently-abled.
Tell us about your Paralympic experience?
It has been a great experience ever since I started my Paralympic journey at the 1996 games in Atlanta, to the recently concluded Rio Games in 2016. However, I feel sad that not many of our para athletes qualify in the quota. More people should participate and we should build more awareness around shooting sports.
What are your goals for the future?
I would like to continue my training and keep performing for as long as I am fit.
Who has been your greatest support, through your journey? What about your source of inspiration?
My family, my friends, as well as the government, who give me the money and sponsor me. For a sportsperson, it is important to get support from everyone, be it family, government or friends. As for inspiration- my mother. She has always been there to motivate and support me. She has stood by me all the time, even when my father did not want me to pursue shooting. Instead he wanted me to study and become a doctor.
How did your coach help you to better your performance?
He has helped me understand better techniques, such as standing position, rifle position and many other things, all of which have improved my game.
What life lessons have you learned from sports?
Sports is actually my life; I live for sports. It has taught me valuable lessons concerning the power of loyalty and honesty. For, if you are not loyal and honest, to your chosen activity, you can’t achieve anything.
What is your strong personality trait, that has helped you attain success?
I don’t quit, and I train hard. I believe that anything is possible if you really will it.
What was the biggest difficulty or challenge you had to overcome in your journey?
One of the biggest difficulties I face is commuting to and from the shooting range which is far from home.
How do you keep yourself calm and composed after loses?
I tell myself what I’ve done wrong at that time, but the next time I shouldn’t be repeating the same mistake again; and prepare myself better. I work on my own. In advanced nations, there are specialized organizations which help prepare, train, manage as well as plan athletes’ futures, but that sort of ecosystem is yet to develop here.
How did you react when people questioned your ability?
I worked and trained harder to perform better; and when they saw my persistence, they would simply stay quiet. I proved the naysayers wrong on the strength of my determination and the power of my actions.
What do you think about fighting the taboo of disability in our country?
Disability need not be a limiting factor for great accomplishments. There are many differently abled individuals who have become successful civil servants, scientists, academicians, corporate leaders, sportspeople etc. We need to highlight these successes and bring their stories to the fore. This way, more awareness will be created and this will help change mindsets.
What message would you like to give to the public at large about para sports?
Support your country’s sportspersons no matter what discipline they are competing in – weightlifting, shooting or whatever. We are all citizens of the same country and should stand by one another. Also, discard the thought of disability. Today it’s all about your ability – be it Olympics or Paralympics – to win a medal for the country.
What about your message to young athletes and para athletes?
Do not take short cuts, or adopt wrong or quick fix methods. Also, realise that not everyone can make a success out of professional sporting as the competition is tremendous. Out of every ten thousand who set out, only one or two make it to the top league. Importantly, remember that sports is to keep us refreshed and healthy, and should not be seen as a business.
What kind of support do you expect from the committee and government in future?
The authorities must help and support para sportspersons, at par with their abled counterparts, by way of better facilities, and regular training camps. Secondly, we need to put in place a backup mechanism. Say, if I am not able to perform for some reason, then a ready replacement should be available. As for the government I think it should support the federation in every way it can.
To know more about Naresh Kumar Sharma, visit his profile
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