Meet 19-year-old Ayushi Podder, who's all set to become India’s next big shooting star
Growing up, Ayushi Podder wanted to be a dancer or model. She trained in classical dance and even compiled a portfolio to take up modelling as a career.
However, fate turned her in a completely different direction.
Ayushi Podder competing in competition(L); Ayushi training with her father and coach, Pankaj Podder.
On the insistence of her father, Pankaj Podder, Ayushi picked up a sports rifle when she was just 14 years old. She trained rigorously for seven days in a week under the guidance of her father, who is also a shooter with his own shooting academy. She would go to school in the morning and the evenings were kept for practice. The rigorous training led her to becoming a state champion in 2014.
This victory set her on her path to becoming a professional rifle shooter. Like her father, she too now dreams of winning the coveted Olympic medal.
Not afraid of hard work
Shooting is a tough sport, mentally and physically. With three different events, different distances, different rifle and ammunition for each, its challenging and takes a lot of hard work and discipline. However, Ayushi is not the one to shy away from challenges.
“I took up the a challenge. I decided that I want to do well in all the three events,” says Ayushi referring to the 10m, 50m prone and 50m 3 position - she participates in.
She explains that foreign players participate in all three events and have even won Olympic medals. However, the perception in India is that a player should concentrate on being good in one event rather than focussing on all three.
“I want to break that stereotype. I want to prove that if we wish, we can do well in all three events together. It just requires focus,” adds the 19-year-old shooter.
Success takes time
Ayushi Podder (centre) with her teammates after winning the Asian Junior Championships in Doha, Qatar.
“Success takes time, but I am sure it’ll come,” says Ayushi, who is part of the junior Indian shooting team. Her recent performance at the recently concluded Asian Shooting Championship in Doha, where she won the silver medal in the 50m rifle 3 positions team event is reflective of this philosophy.
After her first State Championship win, Ayushi began devoting more time to the sport, training with her father at his academy, Bull’s Eye in Sheoraphuli, Kolkata. Her father also built a makeshift range for her at their home for her to train. She travels to Delhi and Pune to train in bigger ranges to practise 50m shooting as West Bengal lacks such training facilities.
Within four years, she has won three state championships, and several medals at the National Championships in both individual and team events. Though she won the domestic competitions with less difficulty, the international circuit proved to be her stumbling block.
From schedule delays to frosty conditions and outdated equipment, lack of financial sponsors, not having her father or personal coaches nearby, left her in disarray on some occasions.
However, the teenager’s optimism shines through, she is on the lookout for more opportunities and possibilities in her sport.
Due to lack of financial sponsors, the initial two-three years were tough. The rifle she used was not good enough. “The financial situation was problematic. I did not have a good rifle, you need tested ammunition also. So, in an international competition, a bolt suddenly fell down from my rifle,” she says, explaining the need for good equipment.
To put into perspective the financial aid required for the sport, just a good grade rifle costs Rs 8 lakh. In 2018, she received support from Lakshya Sports and Sony Pictures Network India. She was able to buy a new rifle and also gets tested ammunitions for events.
A chilling encounter
Ayushi was in Suhl, Germany competing in her first international tournament outside of India, the 2016 ISSF Junior Shooting Championship. It was extremely cold and frosty, with snowfall and rain a day before the event. Though unaccustomed to such weather, the team's hopes relied on her for the 50m team event. Her partners had shot their rounds, and a good performance from her would guarantee them a gold.
However, in the midst of pressure Ayushi was cold and shivering uncontrollably. Her worried coach hurried in with hot water, her teammates chipped in by rubbing her palms and keeping her warm.
Never the one to back down, Ayushi battled on. Her performance not only secured the gold for the team, it was also the first time the junior Indian women’s team had won a gold at the World Championships.
“It was memorable because I never expected to win a medal at my first international event,” she says.
Learnings and future plans
Ayushi says the learning in the range also applies to life in various situations. “If you face a setback, and if the shots are not good, I take a deep breath and focus on the process rather than the result. Remaining calm is important, otherwise anxiety grows.”
In everyday situations too, when a situation induces anxiety, she deals with it in the same way. “Everytime there is anxiety, you have to be calm,” she reiterates.
In the course of her shooting journey, she says her learning comes in terms of experiences she has gained. “I have won and lost. I don’t want to think of it in terms of loss but experience gained. I see youngsters who perform better than me, but I know I have to be patient because I chose to perform well in all three events, not just one. I know it’s taking time but I know I will achieve success.”
Ayushi is currently focussing on progressing to the senior level and hopes to emulate her idols Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang and win an Olympic medal. She is practising in the hopes of qualifying for the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games before she gets to her goal of participating in the 2024 Olympics.
Along with shooting, Ayushi is also pursuing a BA in Public Administration at a university in Chandigarh.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)