Overcoming hardships is part and parcel of sportspersons life but for BWF Para-badminton World Champion Manasi Joshi it’s her journey until now. From being a software engineer to para-athlete, the 31-year-old now has her eyes on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
From being 2-7 down in the opening set of the women’s singles Para-Badminton World Championship final 2019, you ended up with a scoreline of 21-12, 21-7 defeating compatriot Parul Parmar. Tell us about that experience.
It was a fantastic feeling. I backed myself to make a comeback and I did, a little surprised but I was also somewhere prepared for this. Since I have played her (Parul) before, I sort of knew her strengths and weaknesses. My record against her has always been quite disappointing but I felt confident that I will be able to beat her. The fact that I faced her in the final did come with some extra pressure but I believe that I was prepared. In the first game, I was a bit concerned. But the moment I won the first game, I was confident that I could win the match. I worked extremely hard and was glad that it all paid off.
- You started playing badminton when you were 9. Was it your own choice to pick up the racket?
I started playing badminton just as a hobby. It was a fascinating sport but never thought of it as a career option. I was introduced to the sport by my father who taught me how to hold a racket and hit a shuttle. I have been playing the sport since the age of 9. It started as a hobby when I joined the school summer camp. While studies were my focus, I kept playing the sport and eventually started representing my school and college at district level tournaments.
- You were a software engineer and after losing your leg in a road accident in Mumbai 2011, how did you decide to take up professional sports?
After my accident in 2011, I used sports/badminton for rehabilitation. It was only in 2015 that I started playing badminton professionally. Just before my accident I had played and won a Gold in Women Singles at Atos Mumbai Badminton Championship, an intra corporate badminton tournament organised by my company. In 2012, 3-4 months after re-learning to walk, I played the same tournament and won a Gold again, against the able-bodied athletes. This was the turning point in my life. This gave me the confidence I needed to test my limits and a whole new world of opportunities opened up.
- Can you describe the trouble or hardships a para-athlete from India faces on a regular basis?
Pursuing a sport professionally is a lot of hard work for any athlete. Being a para-athlete, I just have a few more challenges. I keep facing road-blocks but the idea is to find a solution and my way through it.
For starters, I wish there is proper support to any individual who acquires disability – from peer support to rehab support, anything that can help them be the champion they wish to be. In terms of prosthesis support for athletes - I believe the cost of the prosthesis can deter the chances of an athlete from entering a championship. Such equipment can be really expensive. I have been lucky to have had the continuous support of my sponsors Welspun Group, Mallcom, OGQ, ASK Automotive, Citi and my employer BPCL. I would be extremely glad to see more para-athletes receive support from such organisations. We have promising talent which can go a long way if the support is provided at the right time.
- For how long have you been training at the Pullela Gopichand Academy, and how has been his influence on your game?
I have now been training at the academy for 3 years now and Pullela sir’s guidance has helped me massively. We all know Pullela Sir is one of the best coaches in India. His presence has been a big influence. A huge part of the credit to my success in recent times goes to Gopichand sir, my coach Rajendra Kumar sir and the incredible support staff I have right from the trainers to physios.
- Any memorable event/occasion in your career that you would like to share?
The most memorable moment in my career would definitely be the winning moment from the BWF World Championship in Basel last year.
- Every sportsperson has a role model to whom he/she looks up too, and channelise their game accordingly? Who is yours?
I have a lot of people that I draw inspiration from, right from my parents to my biggest competitor on court. My father is a retired scientist from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, I always see him studying and learning new things while he was working; when he was about to retire and even now, after his retirement. His relentless pursuit for knowledge gives me the motivation to excel. My mother, she is one of the most patient and sincere people I know of. If she puts her mind to something, it will be done! Parul (Parmar) didi is a great motivator and I have a lot of respect for her.
- What next after winning the gold medal in the Para-Badminton World Championships? Is Tokyo 2020 Paralympic 2020 Tokyo on your list?
Currently, I am focusing on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics in the Mixed Doubles category with my partner Rakesh Pandey.
- Lastly, you have been nominated for the BBC India Sportswoman of the year. How does that feel?
I am very honoured to have been nominated for the BBC India Sportswoman of the year 2019, alongside the female athletes who have inspired me in my life. The response that I have received is overwhelming. I have so many people telling me that they have voted for me, right from my friends, families, colleagues, my sponsors, to my ex-colleagues.