Arvind Bhatt won the National badminton championship at Rohtak in Haryana this January. He defeated P Kashyap 21-13, 21-17 in the 2011 finals. That’s what the records book will tell you.
But there was another champion, though he remained uncrowned. Parupalli Kashyap. For him getting there required more than talent and hardwork. It required grit and willpower to fight through a life-threatening situation and get to the finishing line, simply because he refused to give up.
The world number 25 describes the 75th Senior Nationals as a “horrible experience”.
“It was one degree inside the stadium. And I started coughing on day one. But I could not take my medication for asthma as the Badminton Federation had not got it approved. I struggled through my semis against Sai Praneeth as in the finals against Arvind. The approval that I could take the medication for asthma came after the Nationals got over.”
Bureaucratic red tape that can leave a sportsperson short of breath, haven’t we heard that before. Everytime Kashyap changes his medication, he has to get the TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) certificate from WADA. It is a tedious process to undergo the tests and produce medical certificates to renew the certificate every year.
Everytime the 24-year-old steps on the badminton court, he is up against two opponents. One, on the other side of the court and the second, himself. A player with a breathtaking style, Kashyap has to take tremendous care to ensure he is not breathless on court.
That’s why two inhalers (one for regular use and one SOS), tablets and syrup get into Kashyap’s badminton kit at the same time as his racquets, towels, shoes and shuttle cocks. It was only in 2004 that Kashyap’s succumbing frequently to cough, nasal congestion and breathlessness was diagnosed as triggered by asthma. All through his growing up years, everytime Kashyap reported the symptoms, he was inevitably prescribted antibiotics that led to fever. Kashyap feels a three-year stay in Bangalore between 2000 and 2003 made it worse, because of the pollen content in the city’s air.
“In all those years, my body did not grow strong despite all the training. From the age of 13 to 19, I was playing simply because I loved playing badminton. I am glad my parents were supportive and let me do just that. But at 19, when with the medication and training, my body became strong, I started winning.”
The medication had transformed Kashyap as a player. From just playing the game he loved and enjoyed, he started playing to win. 2004-07 were the years when Kashyap truly arrived as a player. Till one day in 2007, when he realised the medication was not working.
It was at a tournament in Thailand that he discovered after a morning match, he was feeling drained out for the evening match. Surprising, he thought, considering his rigorous training was much more strenuous. He realised the humid climate was aggravating his asthma, making it difficult for him to breathe.
“There would be instances where I would train very hard here but the moment I would go to a humid or a cold place, I would not be able to breathe properly. And I would get out in the first or the second round. I did not know I needed to increase the dosage of the medication or shift to a different medicine.”
Since then, Kashyap works as much on his game as on his medication. 2010 saw him fail at the All-England because the heater was not working inside the stadium and the very cold weather meant, he struggled to play beyond the first 15 points. “But even when the going is tough, I don’t feel like stopping, I just feel like going on, ” grins Kashyap, flashing his shy and very affable smile.
Kashyap says he did his own research on the net to find out what other sportspersons suffering a similar condition were doing. He found out those in the US and UK, for example, used completely different drugs and higher dosages. He sought help from the Olympic Gold Quest Foundation that was supporting him to see a specialist. It made life a bit easier but not a cakewalk.
The 24-year-old says his bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games last year was like magic.
“I had been training the whole year for the Commonwealth. There was a five-week long training camp but the first three weeks I was only coughing. I couldn’t take new medicine prescribed by the doctor because it needed to be approved by the Federation. I was very sad. But then the cough suddenly stopped and I trained for the last two weeks and won the bronze,” he says. Perhaps it was the power of the mind over the body.
Have there been instances where you wanted to just quit because the struggle is so much more than what other players had to go through, I ask.
“I don’t think too much about it because if I think too much, I will feel sad about it and I may end up stopping playing also. There have been many instances, where I have felt that I was training very hard and something happens and I cannot play. So I wonder if there is any point in training so hard. So I feel low. Then I tell myself, take it as it comes.”
Kashyap says he has to pay attention to detail which other sportspersons would ignore. Like taking care where he sits, ensure there is no dust around where he trains or sleeps, what he eats.
As Kashyap sweats it out at the Pullela Gopichand academy in Hyderabad, changing from a blue to a red to a dark blue T-shirt, he knows to take flight, he will have to draw as much on his talent as on his willpower. He says his goal was to break into the top 10 by the end of the year and the top 8 before the London Olympics, to stand a chance of a good draw.
“But after the Malaysian Open, where in the second round, I felt totally out of breath despite apparently no environmental trigger, I changed my approach. I don’t think about the goals now. I take everyday as it comes. I am confident that if my health is okay, I will achieve my target. I do what I must and try not to worry about what could go wrong.”
And if Kashyap with his mantra of `Impossible is nothing’ achieves his target, it surely will take India’s collective breath away at the victory of the human spirit.
(All Photographs from Kashyap’s Twitter handle)