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Paralympics: Life has come a full circle for Avani Lekhara's coach Suma Shirur

Avani Lekhara

Bengaluru, September 6: It could not have been a better Teacher's Day gift for shooting coach Suma Shirur than seeing her student, Avani Lekhara carry India's flag at the closing ceremony of the Paralympics 2020 in Tokyo on Sunday (September 5).

Avani, who has been training under Suma at the Lakshya Shooting Club in the Karnala Sports Academy premises in Panvel, Navi Mumbai, since early 2018, won an unprecedented two medals at her maiden Paralympics -- gold in 10M Air Rifle Standing SH1 and bronze in the 50M Rifle 3 Positions SH1 -- incidentally becoming the first Indian woman ever to win more than one medal at a single Paralympic Games.

"I feel fantastic today, on top of the world. I definitely wanted Avani to win medals. To actually win two medals, I feel overwhelmed. And to see her be the flagbearer at the Closing Ceremony, I couldn't be prouder, especially on Teacher's Day," said Suma.

Paralympics: Double delight for Avani and LakshyaParalympics: Double delight for Avani and Lakshya

Avani competed in four events and won two medals. In her concluding event on Sunday, she finished 28th with a score of 612 in the Mixed 50m Rifle Prone SH1 qualification rounds.

"I'm very excited. It's a dream-come-true for me that I have been chosen as the flag bearer for India," said Avani in her hour of glory.

Lucky charm

Lucky charm

Avani made it a point to thank Suma's contribution in her life.

"To be training under Suma ma'am is a very big thing in my life. I started training under her in 2018 and started with the basics. She made me stronger. She has been my lucky charm. I feel more confident when I am with her. I don't feel like I can't do anything. She understands me so much. I'm so very thankful and grateful to Suma ma'am for being there."

The Lakshya bond

The Lakshya bond

For Suma, life has come a full circle as a coach. Starting her coaching career in 2006 while she was still an active shooter, she was chosen as the High Performance Coach of the junior Indian team in March 2018, helped shooters win medals at the junior and senior World Cups, accompanied Ayonika Paul as a coach to the 2016 Rio Olympics, was a part of the Indian shooting contingent coaching staff at Tokyo 2020 in July-August and now at the Paralympics as Avani's coach.

In as much as Suma gets satisfaction at her trainees' performances at the world stage, she gets greater joy in seeing each of her wards right from the opening day at Lakshya do well in life.

Satisfying journey

Satisfying journey

"I'm very happy with my journey as a coach for the last 15 years, 10 of them overlapping as a shooter. Doing grass roots coaching at Lakshya has helped me understand the different kinds of shooters, not just the elite shooters. My goal is to make shooters at every level be their best.

"My goal was not only to be participating at the Olympics but also to bring out the best in every single shooter, guide them through their journey. I can proudly say that each one of them has been very successful in life and the talented ones have gone on to make a mark in the sport. I've been able to guide shooters to win quota places in the last two Olympic Games and this Paralympics. It was also pleasing to see Shahu Mane and Mehuli Ghosh win silver medals at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires when I was the coach. It has been a very satisfying journey so far."

Next assignment

Next assignment

One aspect of Suma is that she does not discriminate among shooters. Even Avani is not made to feel that she is a differently-abled shooter whenever she is with Suma. GoSports Foundation facilitated Avani's timely visits to Lakshya, where the diamond was shaped over time.

Following Avani's success in Tokyo, Suma is only looking ahead to contribute more and more towards shooting. Her next assignment is to accompany the Indian Junior Rifle team as the chief coach in the upcoming ISSF Junior World Championships in Lima, Peru later this month.

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Story first published: Monday, September 6, 2021, 11:15 [IST]
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