Dear Me: Learning never say never early will take you far - Vijay Kumar | other sports | Hindustan Times
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Dear Me: Learning never say never early will take you far - Vijay Kumar

Vijay Kumar, Indian shooter and 2012 London Olympics silver medallist, tells his younger self to learn not to give up as it will help him later in life.

Dear Me series Updated: Aug 11, 2017 16:30 IST
Vijay Kumar won a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics and was even India’s flagbearer at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Vijay Kumar won a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics and was even India’s flagbearer at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. (Illustration: Mohit Suneja)

Dear 16-year-old Vijay,

Life is hard. It would be for anyone growing up in the tiny village of Barsar in Himachal Pradesh’s Hamirpur district. Idyllic the place may be but since it is far from being urbanised, the pleasures a teen takes from granted in metros will be denied your lot.

But guess what? You will choose an ever harder path. Because of a burning desire to supplement your father’s income, make life a little more comfortable for your near and dear ones. So, you will board a bus to Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh to take a test to become a soldier. Like your Subedar father. So what if he has never even suggested anything like this --- the only thing he has asked of you is to take school seriously -- it is your sense of responsibility that makes you do this at an age when your peers are more focused on having fun.

Such is the strength of your will that you will clear the entrance test in your first attempt. And like dad, the Dogra Regiment it will be. The Army forges men of steel and so will you be through drills in armed and unarmed combat. You will get hurt, your peers will be stretchered off at times but you will look fear in eye and make it blink. After all, you never say never in the Army.

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Your sharpshooting skills will make an instructor ask you to join the ‘Young Blood’ group and even though you don’t know it, it will be the first step to being a champion. The instructor there will sell you a dream: of making it to the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, of a life soldiers can’t imagine. And you will buy it, be prepared to put in the hard yards for it. From around 200 aspirants, you will make it to the 2003 GV Mavlankar memorial championship in 2003.

From ‘Young Blood’ to Inter-Services, the Army Marksmanship Unit and the India squad will be natural progression for someone like you who believes in himself and the virtue of hard work. From when you fired air guns at balloons, you would already have come a long way. You will breeze through the ranks of juniors and by 2005 you will be ready for India.

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After switching from rapid fire to air pistol, you will be noticed in the 2006 Commonwealth Games but just when you think you are ready for the Olympics in 2008, a bout of chicken pox will rule you out of the qualifiers. Remember, as the song goes, life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.

But life also usually gives those who try hard another chance and for you it will come in the 2011 World Cup when you will qualify for the London Games. You will be happy but what is important is that it will spur you to work even harder at the range which will almost become your home. An Olympic silver will make the Army give you a royal welcome. The next few days will stay with you for the rest of your life.

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Late in November 2015, you will again get the feeling that something is wrong when you feel a shooting pain, the result of heavy weight-training and hours of standing monk-like at the range. Surgery will render you hors de combat for nearly 15 months and deal a massive blow to your Rio Olympic Games’ qualification.

So, the silver will have to turn to gold in 2020 Tokyo. Winner of 203 national and international medals, I know the boy who left home at 16 to be a soldier will again train 10-12 hours daily.

I can only wish you all the best.

Love, always

Vijay Kumar

(As told to Ajai Masand)