Kolkata, Sept. 8: A "chance meeting" with Pullela Gopichand near an auditorium lift was enough for Manasi Joshi to convince the national coach of her burning desire to become a world champion. And rest as they say was history.
The 30-year-old won the Para World Championship in Basel, having finished with a bronze in 2017 along with a silver in mixed event back in 2015. Manasi's lower left limb, which was amputated after a road accident in 2011, couldn't dampen her spirits as she started doing well at international events. But what eluded her was champions' luck and she needed a Dronacharya and who better than 'Guru Gopi'.
A bank employee, Manasi vividly remember how she approached Gopichand to take her under his wings at his Hyderabad Academy. "I was working at a bank in Ahmedabad, where we had a large auditorium. Once we had rented out the auditorium to sports university of Gujarat and Gopi sir was one of the speakers there," the 30-year-old said.
Initially, she could not make up her mind whether to approach the legendary coach but her colleagues insisted that she must try and connect with him. "As soon as I saw Gopi sir near the auditorium lift, I took a minute and told him about para-sport and about my sporting journey. The 2018 Para Asian Games in Jakarta was still months away and I told him how can I go about it. He was more than happy to welcome me at his academy in Hyderabad," she recalled.
Thus began her journey at the Hyderabad academy, where she trained under coach J Rajendra Kumar, fitness trainer L Raju, who made her go through some strenuous training sessions as she was not able to run or to cycling. Indeed a painful regime that made her wince in pain. She also got a new set of prosthetic implants, custom made for her in Hyderabad as Manasi fought against the odds to become world champion in the SL3 category with a 21-12 21-7 win over defending champion and compatriot Parul Parmar.
"I learnt different skills. I got my prosthesis made in Hyderabad. All those things came up to my advantage and I could win the world title. Gopi sir would always sit during my match and kept cheering for me," she said.
"I never thought I will progress in the field of sports. I just was doing this for my personal growth and it took me to a level where I could represent the country and do well."
The journey to glory has been an enriching one where she has learnt about how much a human body can adapt and react in different situations, cross pain barriers. "It has been an enriching journey. I've learnt a lot about myself, how a human body can adapt to different situations whatever it has put on to. How much we can our push ourselves, how much we can do different things," she said.
Manasi's focus will now shift her focus from singles to mixed doubles so as to make the cut for Tokyo Paralympics, where there's no singles SL3 event in the women category. She would again reunite with her mixed doubles partner Rakesh Pandey from Haryana, with whom she had won her first title -- a silver at the mixed doubles Para-Badminton World Championships in England. The target is to improve her ranking from world number 13 to be in top-six.
"We have six tournaments to go. It's a very difficult journey but I'm up for it. All the teams are very good. We are also becoming better. This sport is very competitive."
Manasi also urged the government to exempt GST from prosthesis and requested for a subsidy as it costs her about Rs 25 lakh for a set which has to be changed every five years.
“The prosthesis that I use is made for walking and that I use for sport. It's like we've to pay tax for walking. Why should anybody pay taxes for procuring equipment that are important for my day-to-day activities? That's why I've requested the Government to waive off GST and subsidize this.
"It's a huge cost, even if you're rich, spending so much of money at one go is quite difficult. I want to highlight this."
Manasi also called for an insurance of prosthesis items. "If I lose it or something happens, who will I go to? And how will I walk? You don't get insurance while buying prosthesis. Every other country has insurance. This is also a thing for the government to think about," she signed off.