At the ongoing Asian Games at Jakarta, Indonesia, the Indian kabaddi team lost in the finals to Iran, in a nail-biting match.
With this win, Iran has a total of 16 gold medals out of the 45 medals it has won so far. While there were many praying and rooting for the Iranian team, what caught everyone's attention was their coach Shailaja Jain, an Indian.
Hailing from Nagpur, Maharashtra, the 61-year-old coach took up the job 18 months before the Asian Games.
Growing up, Shailaja watched her mother play kabaddi, which inspired her to take up the sport. She went on to play at the University and National levels. In 1980, she got married but received immense support from her husband's family, which pushed her to continue the game.
Shailaja’s first job as a coach was in Ichalkaranji, Maharashtra. Her daughter was then only three months old. Since then, she has trained more than 300 players in the sport. In 2014, she retired from the National Insitute for Sports.
The Iran Kabaddi Federation was closely watching her career from 2008 and was keen on getting her on board as coach. In 2017, she finally agreed and left for Iran.
In a conversation with The Indian Express , she speaks about her journey.
Once you decide to take a leap, you shouldn’t think too much. I was not only reluctant but worried about going to Iran. I’m a pure vegetarian Jain. You know how some of us think about Islamic countries, so, of course, I was wary of the dressing laws and how women are treated, and whether I’d be able to get vegetarian food. But many things are misconceptions. There are certain restrictions, but not all of them are bad.
Moving to Iran as a coach wasn’t the only thing Shailaja was apprehensive about. She had to also learn the local language, Farsi. It was the only way she could communicate with the players.
In a conversation with The Indian Express after her team won the gold at the Asian Games, she said,
When I visited Iran for the first time after taking up the job, I said this is my mission, to prove I’m the best coach. And now we have the result. Today our defence after the first five minutes was very tight, which was crucial to our win. And three of our raiders were excellent.
From yoga to breathing exercises, Shailaja has brought her own work ethic to Iran. With this championship, her stint with the country comes to an end and she is looking to return to India, according to The Scroll.