Nothing known as hard target - eyes on the bull?s eye

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 28.12.04
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As I walk into the Tata Archery Academy one sunny monday morning, Purnima Mahato, former national champion in archery, exudes enthusiasm. She belies her age and accredits her disciplined life as a sportsperson for her youthful appearance.

Born and brought up in the steel city, archery, for Purnima, happened quite by chance. ?There was a ground near my place at Birsanagar, where people used to practice archery. We, as kids, used to go and watch them regularly. One day, I felt like giving the sport a shot and gradually I developed a liking for it,? she says.

She has fond memories of her early days in the sport, when the training centre near her place was closed down and she had to travel all the way to Burmamines every morning to practice. To top it all, she even got back from there and rushed to school. ?I did not tell my parents about my passion. They thought that I, like other kids, was off for regular games. Within a few days, however, I was selected for the state meet and I had to inform them,? she beams.

Her parents put her fears to rest and supported her. She too proved her mettle in the state meet, her very first tournament, where she secured the third position. Since then, there was no looking back. One achievement followed another and soon, she was the national sub-junior champion. Studies became occasional after Class X as she joined the national camp in New Delhi in 1992. ?I had to go to Delhi for training regularly and most of my time was spent in these camps,? she explains. The hard work paid off and within a year of the national camp, Purnima was selected for the national team. Her journey to the stars had begun.

In 1994, Purnima won six gold medals at the Pune national games and was also awarded the trophy for the ?Most Outstanding sportsperson?. The same year, she participated in the Hiroshima Asian Games, where a medal eluded her. ?I was the only person from India participating for the event in Hiroshima, whereas you need, at least, a team of four for archery. Though my individual performance was satisfactory, it was not good enough to win us a medal,? rues Purnima.

For few years, Purnima was immersed in the sport and added a fresh leaf to her laurel with every tournament. She was on the rosters for the World Championship, Asian Grand Prix, Asian Championship, Invitation Meet and the Commonwealth Games ? she even brought home a silver from the 1996 Commonwealth Games.

One reason Purnima did not win as many medals as she could have was the morbid fear of staying alone. ?After a day at the tournament, when I had to come back to my hotel room and stay all alone, I would not be able to sleep for the entire night. I guess that affected my performance the following mornings,? she says;

?Archery is an interesting game, but it is not as easy as it looks. In fact, one needs to be very disciplined in life to do well in the sport ? not just the physical aspect, but one also needs to be mentally tough.?

In 2000, Purnima joined Tata Archery Academy as coach and since then, she has devoted herself towards nurturing young talents from across the nation. Initially not really keen on coaching, Purnima was took up the task as a challenge and today, she is proud of her decision ? many students have given her a reason to be by winning accolades at national and international events.

Another accolade for Purnima was being nominated to coach the junior national team in 2000. She progressed to coach at the senior team for the Asian Championship in Hong Kong.

Though archers from India have been successful in the recent times, Purnima believes a lot still needs to be done. ? The situation has improved since the time when we started. We had to spend our own money for equipment, but today corporates are sponsoring and it has become easier for budding archers,? she says.

Purnima confesses that she could achieve whatever she has only because of her parents? support. ?Not many parent support their children?s decision of making a career out of sports. I think, as we Indians, need to change our attitude. Abroad, sports is as important as studies, but here people consider sports to be an academically-weak students forte,? rues Purnima. ?There is enough talent in our country and with exposure and encouragement, these kids can do very well. Moreover people get attracted to glamourous sports and archery is still not considered a safe proposition,? feels Purnima.

Purnima has a few pointers for all those nurturing dreams of picking up the bow and arrow. ?Be determined to be the best and do not treat it like hobby or a pastime. Any sport involves a lot of self control and discipline,? she avers.

Archery apart, Purnima also loves listening to soft music and she sometimes even indulges in humming a few bars to herself. Marriage, though not plant, is imminent. ?Why not? I would love to settle down provided I find the right person. It is difficult to find a family that would accept the daughter-in-law going out every morning in tracksuits,? she smiles. The modesty becomes her.

Nilanjana Ghosh Choudhury