Pooja Khanna – India’s first paralympic archer
Give your best to yourself and to your country
Pooja Khanna is the first Indian archer ever to qualify for the Paralymics. She represented India at the 2016 Paralympics at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. All of 26 years, she started her career as a para discuss athlete before switching to archery. She won the gold medal at the 2016 National Para Archery Tournament in Rohtak, her hometown, making a grand statement in the arena of archery. She followed that up with a strong fifth place finish at the 2016 World Ranking Para Archery Tournament in Czech Republic, which secured her a place at the Rio Paralympics.
Afflicted with poliomyelitis from a very young age, and constrained by limited financial means, Pooja had to surmount several obstacles to follow her sporting dreams. Her focus, resolve and persistence helped her overcome every obstacle, and emerge winner. With her indomitable spirit, she is sure to leave a lasting mark in the field of para archery.
Here we catch up with this inspirational sportsperson.
What would you rate as your top achievements?
I stood 5th in the recurve women’s open competition at 2016 World Para Archery Tournament in the Czech Republic and qualified for Rio Paralympics. Prior to that, I won my first gold medal at the national level in 2016.
When and how did you get affected by paralytic disability?
I was around two or two and half years old when I was diagnosed with polio.
Which has been the proudest moment in your life?
I feel immensely proud being the first Indian archer to represent the country in Paralympics.
How was your experience at Rio Paralympics?
First of all, I had never imagined, I would be able to reach that level. Qualifying in the quarters was a big achievement for me.
We found out there had been some problem regarding your coach before going to the Paralympics?
I was training under my coach from the beginning, so obviously if I have any doubts or difficulties, my coach would be the best person to understand me and handle them. I thought, I would be sent for the event with my coach, but I was being sent with some other person. My submission was that when you are sending me with another person, that person should be efficient enough to handle me, and my situation. My coach happens to have the best qualifications. That’s why I wanted him to accompany me. I would be able to give my hundred percent only when I have good backup. I am happy my coach could accompany me.
When did you start archery and why?
Actually, I was initially interested in shooting. But given the limitations in terms of scope, the costs involved, and limited infrastructure for pursuing it, I took up archery. Meanwhile, I found out that there was already a coach available for archery; after which I inquired further and started training for archery.
How did your family and society support you, when you took up archery?
Archery is not easy, especially for girls. In our society, education and job are given more importance. My parents too wanted me to study and get a job. They thought that the equipment would be expensive and they would not be able to afford it. But my coach supported me a lot. Also, I had decided that I wanted to pursue archery. I would say, it was the society that supported me more than the family; since I was an athlete and national champion for three years.
Tell us about your training routine?
The coach schedules the training, starting with physical training around 4.30 or 5 in the morning, followed by practice.
What do you particularly like about archery?
When you watch archery, you may find it boring. But once you are into it, there is no other game as interesting. You need to focus on the smallest things, such as having the correct posture, knowing the wind velocity and so on, before aiming.
How do you prepare yourself for competitions?
I ensure that I stay calm and composed before the competition. I listen to music and keep talking, so that the performance pressure doesn’t get to me.
Could you tell us what challenges you had to face to become an athlete, especially being a girl?
When I used to practice or compete, the guys used to refuse to compete with me. As a result I didn’t receive the exposure and experience that usually comes with participating often. Furthermore, I used to long to compete with them thinking that if they did so, at least I would have been able to learn something from them.
Who has been your biggest support throughout your journey?
My coach has been with me throughout, to help me, guide me and support me in every way – when I needed equipment, when I sought help, or even in understanding my needs. As for my family, my aunt has been a great moral support.
What is that one advice by your coach that you will always bear in mind?
He always says, “Give your best to yourself and to your country”.
What are your future goals?
I believe in taking small steps. I am preparing to medal World Championship in September, so that I can qualify for the 2018 Asian Games.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
I always want to give my hundred percent, but sometimes, under the pressure of competition I tend to panic. This impacts my focus. I have been seeking help from my coach on this.
What has been your life lesson from sports?
Life is unpredictable. I’ve learnt not to give up in any situation; mould myself as per the situation and strive to give my hundred percent.
Which has been your strongest personality trait that helped you reach this far?
I don’t stress too much and I am easy going. I believe that if you try you will succeed.
How do you stay calm and composed after a competition, when things don’t work out in your favour?
I take a break to calm myself. I accept the reality of the situation, I introspect, learn from my mistakes and work on them, so that I don’t repeat them.
What would be your message to the people who are not much aware of para sports in India?
I feel media plays a major role in awareness. This is the global experience. If media supports para sports, people will know about it better. This will also attract young children to perhaps pursue sports in the future.
What would be your message to all our young athletes?
I would just say, stay true to your roots and remember where you’ve come from. Never let ego or attitude stand in your way.
To know more about Pooja Khanna, visit her profile
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