Setting aside personal tragedy, two crippling back-to-back injuries, NKBA shuttler Sanyogita Ghorpade keeps her focus to make her comeback memorable.
In sports, injuries are inevitable and frequent. But when personal tragedy adds up to an athletes’ career it takes a toll, or a lion heart overcomes the physical and psychological impact created. Pune-based shuttler Sanyogita Ghorpade, the women’s doubles runners-up at the recently concluded 81st Senior National Championship at Patna, is one such player who proved that her return was to be better, faster, and stronger.
In reaching the final (partnering Karnataka’s Shika Gautam), the 24-year-old Nikhil Kanetkar Badminton Academy (NKBA) trainee personally lay to rest a string of disappointments that dogged an otherwise progressive career. Her achievement comes after earning a wild-card entry and with a partner that classifies them ‘scratch.’
Despite the title eluding her, the effort meant overcoming a massive mental block. Her best at the National level was making it to the semifinals at Jammu & Kashmir in 2012.
Going through a difficult period from early 2012 until date, Sanyogita endured probably the hardest emotional experience when she lost her elder brother (Siddhant), a badminton player himself, in a car accident February 2012.
Having reconciled herself, Sanyogita Ghorpade, decided to join the Pullela Gopichand Academy at Hyderabad after her talent caught the eye and earned an invite to join. This was purely due to the potential she had, which included a ‘short term’ world singles rank of 90 and a Top-10 India player apart from being numero uno in India in women’s doubles.
Settling down and focusing on training, mostly doubles on the advice of Gopichand, Sanyogita, ironically in February, three years later suffered a knee tear. Playing the mixed doubles’ first round of National Games at Ernakulum, Kerala partnering Shlok Ramachandran, she ended up injured.
Such was her state that she understandably had to move back to Pune to recover which also meant saying goodbye to an Academy every player in India dreams of playing in. On the brighter side, she was always welcome to re-join the Academy.
However, while rehab meant waiting patiently, Sanyogita lost eight months, but once back she needed four tournaments – Pune and two in Cochin, to hit form again when she won an All-India title at Bareilly. But, what Sanyogita had her eyes on was breaking the semifinal cauldron at the Nationals.
Deciding to stay back in Pune, primarily due to her family who worked her through rehab, she joined the city-based Nikhil Kanetkar Badminton Academy (NKBA), run by the former Athens Olympian and founded in 2011.
“When I left Pune for Hyderabad it was because I wanted to forget what happened. The injury in Kerala led to needing someone beside me, and the best is with family as it was tough for me,” Sanyogita explained.
“In Pune, my priorities was to get back and then work on a good partnership.”
“I believe I’m as good as India’s top doubles players, and I want to aim high and work hard,” she says. For Sanyogita, January 2016 meant a new start with the mission to achieve. However, fate remained cruel. A week into practice she snapped her Achilles tendon while playing singles! Now, this was devastating and left her in despair.
Nikhil Kanetkar, Director and Coach NKBA, who was on-hand said, “She was in pain and very let down. She collapsed on the court. What happened was shocking and unfortunate. Harsh reality it was.”
Undergoing surgery by Dr Shirish Pathak at the Dinanath Mangeshkar Hospital, Sanyogita remained determined and well aware that she had to endure yet another rest-and-rehab cycle. “I was warned by the doctor to be careful,” she says. However, the prescribed recovery advice could not stop Sanyogita’s determined itch to get back on the court. Despite the restrictions on; feet movement and not walking for months, Sanyogita silently worked on herself to get ready again. Sanyogita recollects, “I had no option. I had to wait. I wanted to play. Time was the healer.”
Frequent conversations with her first cousin Virdhawal Khade, a 2008 Beijing Olympian and 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games bronze medal swimmer, came in handy during the period. “It helped soothe the pain,” she added. Virdhawal recently was operated for an ACL.
Sanyogita, meanwhile, put the lean period from January to good use; she learnt to play the guitar, revived her academics and enrolled for M.Com and all along worked against the advice of the doctors which meant ‘weight training’ and other ‘basic exercises’.
With less than three months for the Patna National, Sanyogita was back on the court. The intensity was certainly not at its peak, as Achilles takes longer periods of healing. But as Coach Nikhil put it; “She always would make it a point to say that she wanted to be where she left off.”
Clinically, depending on the severity of the injury, recovery from an Achilles injury can take up to 12–16 months. “The hunger to move on is rare. And Sanyogita was all too eager to come back,” Nikhil adds.
Admitting that there was the pain when she began playing Sanyogita’s bigger worry was not having a doubles partner to play. Finally, in Bangalore-based Shikha, a seasoned junior singles player, Sanyogita struck the right chord and made it to the Nationals.
Both Sanyogita/ Shikha made their statement by knocking out No. 4 seed Kuhoo Garg (Uttranchal)/ Ningshi Block Hazarika (Assam) and in the semifinals the No. 2 seeds from Kerala Sruthi K.P)/ Haritha M.H en route the finals before losing to circuit-regulars Aparna Balan and Prajakta Sawant, the third seeds.
The duo’s campaign at Patliputra Sports Complex, Patna was in no way easy. Both had very limited practice time together, which meant working out a strategy to play. Imagine the situation: Shikha, predominantly a singles player with minimal playing time in doubles possessed a natural, free-flowing crosscourt running approach quite the opposite to doubles players who move in a rotational movement to cover the court.
“Yes, it was difficult. But Shikha was willing to learn. She was a fast learner and quick to adapt to the smallest of advice I gave her which included not execute a precise stroke,” Sanyogita explains.
On Sanyogita’s part, playing was equally painful. “The continuous pressure on the operated tendon was unavoidable… nothing could be done,” she adds. “It is a great achievement. The final result was much-needed one for me. I am happy that I am back on track. It has been a tough phase; I guess injuries are always challenging and frustrating to deal with as a professional athlete. Nevertheless, my run to the final, which involves a fantastic performance from my partner (Shikha) is just the right tonic to up my motivation and move on. I would also like to thank Nikhil Sir, and NKBA for helping me all through my need of support.”
Sanyogita Ghorpade’s achievement is an NKBA’s best at any Senior National since inception.
Says Nikhil, who as on hand at Patna; “Having overcome a real rough patch in her career, the effort that she put in in the lead up to the Nationals is commendable and speaks volumes of individual fighting capabilities. I’m sure she will scale greater heights in the years to come. NKBA is proud of Sanyogita and is an inspiration to all aspiring players.”
Having ‘stepped-up her achievement’, Sanyogita is confident to stretch the distance. “Touch wood,” she quips with a giggle that has no signs of worry but the gay abandon every achiever shows when spoken to.