Suhas Yathiraj’s story is a subtle mix of will power, dedication and self-belief.
The para-badminton player proved that no obstacle is insurmountable if one is determined and that is how he secured a silver medal at the recently-concluded Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
How else do you define the achievement of the man, who also had to grapple, in his capacity as the district magistrate of Noida, with challenges to contain the pandemic which was wreaking havoc in the country.
Quite a celebrity now, what does Yathiraj have to say about his new fame?
“Naturally, I am happy and proud to have clinched a medal for the country. There’s no better feeling than to stand on the podium, to see the Tricolour go up,” Yathiraj told The Telegraph on Friday.
“But what makes me happier is that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been a watershed in Indian sports. Till now, the focus had only been on a select few events and some selected athletes were always in the limelight. But post this year’s Games, we can proudly declare that India has come of age as a multi-sport nation.”
How does the IAS officer balance work and badminton? And was it not extra difficult because of the work pressures that the pandemic must have had put on him?
Pat came Yathiraj’s reply: “I am able to balance both because I love both.
“While I am passionate about my job, sport for me is a spiritual experience. See, it is all in your hands about how you manage time and prioritise matters.
“By ‘spiritual’ experience I mean that I when I play, all that I am focused on is getting the next point. My spiritual experience is of an extreme physical level.”
He continued: “It was tough during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic. Noida, because of its proximity to Delhi, was an extra sensitive area and we had to be doubly vigilant. There was the Integrated Command and Control
Centre, to monitor all the Covid-related data and help decision-making. My task was to coordinate and ensure that all departments function effectively and the Covid Warriors face no hindrance in the execution of their work.
“Sure I needed to juggle and balance the Covid-related work and badminton but, I reiterate, if you love something, it is never a pain to make time for it. I have practised after work at 10pm, 11pm and even midnight.
“I trained initially at the Noida Stadium and then at the bigger Greater Noida Stadium. I got a lot of cooperation. The stadium was open for me even at those unearthly hours. My sparring partners were available for me.”
The 38-year-old, who has an ankle deformity since birth, played all kinds of physical sports from childhood — football, volleyball and cricket — among others.
It was only when he was in college that badminton started taking precedence over the other sports and finally, when at the IAS academy, his conversion to badminton was complete and thence started a life-long love affair with the game.
An engineering graduate from the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Surathkal, in Karnataka the shuttler was working with an MNC in Bangalore with job offers from the US and Germany when he chucked it to join the IAS because “I wanted to be a civil servant”.
“God and destiny have been kind to me. Yes, in my life, I have had my share of failures, rejections and setbacks. But now, looking
back, I am happy. I believe destiny does what is best for you,” he said.
“When I lost the final in Tokyo by a whisker, it upset me no doubt. But I prefer to think that I missed the gold for a reason. Maybe the gold would have made me complacent, would have killed my desire to achieve more.”
So, then, would his next target be a gold in Paris 2024?
“Who knows?” laughed Yathiraj. “For now I am living in the moment and cherishing it all. The silver has left a fire burning in my belly. I will do what I think I need to do. The rest only time will tell.”