Amidst the nationwide lockdown, Palak Kohli, the Paralympics-bound shuttler, has found a way to train by setting up a makeshift court at her residence in Lucknow.
The 17-year-old from Jalandhar was initially training with nine other players at the training academy in the city run by national coach Gaurav Khanna. But eight left for their homes just in time before the lockdown came into effect. She then rented a flat at the outskirts of the city and Khanna helped her arrange a makeshift court at a nearby park complete with a lighting facility to enable training at night.
“I train two shifts everyday. Because of daytime heat, I start at 6 a.m. with physical training and then play at the court till 8:30 a.m. and in the evening it’s also 6-8:30 p.m. training,” Palak told PTI.
“Khanna sir stays nearby and he is there every session. So, I am not missing any training due to lockdown. With most of athletes confined to their homes or rooms, I think I am lucky to be able to train. When lockdown is lifted, I won’t be starting from scratch and I feel I will have the advantage going into [the] Paralympics,” said Palak, who has a deformed left hand by birth.
Paralympic bow awaits
Palak is certain to make the cut for Tokyo Paralympics in women’s doubles as she is currently ranked fifth in the world. The top six in the list to be published by International Paralympic Committee will get automatic qualification. “Out of 13 qualification tournaments, 12 were completed and the last one was cancelled due to COVID-19. Out of the 13, a shuttler has to compete in at least six. I am now fifth and top six get automatic qualification. So, I am a certainty for Tokyo Paralympics,” said Palak.
Khanna, her coach, said, “Given that Palak is ranked fifth in women’s doubles in the qualification events held in 2019-2020, she has attained required eligibility to qualify for Paralympics in SL3-SU5 women’s doubles.”
SL3 category is meant for those who compete with a “standing/lower limb impairment/minor” while SU5 features para-athletes with “standing/upper limb impairment.”
Palak is currently ranked 10th in women’s singles in SU5 category.
Palak, who studies in Class 12 at DAV School in Jalandhar, made her national debut last year. She has already won four BWF international tournament medals during the Tokyo Paralympics qualification competitions.
She won the women’s doubles title with Parul Parmar at the Uganda Para International Tournament last year. “I am not complaining as I am getting full training here. Had I gone back to Jalandhar, I would have been confined at home because of the lockdown. Here I am able to do full training,” she said.
“We are also following social distancing norms, we have kept sanitisers with us during training and we keep distance while doing warm-ups. We talk from a distance. Moreover, it’s a gated society, nobody comes in and goes out without permission.”
Palak is supported by the Welspun Super Sport Women’s Programme and has also recently signed up with sports marketing company Meraki Sport and Entertainment. She is also supported by the Olympic Gold Quest Programme.
“The rent for the room and other day-to-day expenditures are being taken care of by my sponsors, so I am not having any financial issues. My only aim is to win a Paralympic medal and I am confident of doing that and making the country proud,” she signed off.