The making of a master shuttler

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Anuradha Pittie traces the journey of the gritty para badminton world champion Manasi Joshi, who has earned a string of accolades, blazing a trail of hope and courage for para athletes around the world.

Then life throws lemons at you, make lemonade’, is the popular adage, and this is exactly what a spunky 21- year old, Manasi chose to do, when she met with a dreadful accident.

Manasi’s childhood is something many a Mumbaikar can relate to. Her father, Girishchandra Joshi, worked as a scientist at the prestigious Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). Even though academic performance was a priority in the Joshi household, Manasi’s parents encouraged her to participate in various extracurricular activities, such as music, art and sports. She tried her hand at volleyball, football and basketball, but badminton remained her all time favourite.
At the tender age of six, she received her first lesson in badminton, with her father teaching her how to hold a racquet and shuttlecock. She grew up playing this sport with her siblings and at summer camps in school. She continued to pursue it as a hobby for fitness purposes and enrolled for district level tournaments while studying at K.J.Somaiya College of Engineering, and later competed at corporate matches, while working as a software engineer.

The fatal U-turn

In 2011, on her way to work, Manasi was taking a U-turn under the flyover, when a truck coming from the opposite direction collided with her motorbike, crushing her left leg and injuring her arm.

People who gathered around her were well meaning but ill equipped to help her, as she lay bleeding profusely and in excruciating pain. Strong survival instincts made her cling onto her consciousness and with commendable presence of mind, she requested them to contact her family and send for an ambulance. 
However, it was only after nine torturous hours that she received proper medical care. In an effort to save the ‘mangled mess’, she knew her leg to be, the doctors subjected her to several surgeries during her 45-day hospitalisation, but alas, gangrene set in and amputation became mandatory. 

Starting afresh

By some strange quirk of fate, Manasi had taken an X-ray of her legs, just two weeks prior to her accident. She finally saw herself in the mirror, came to terms with her loss, despite the ‘phantom leg’ sensation, and decided to move forward with hope.

Whilst her colleagues were forging ahead in their careers, it was disconcerting to be reduced to the most elementary level of relearning to walk again, but Manasi was happy to be alive, and determined to make the best of the situation. So for the next eight months, she struggled with crutches, before she could gain her balance using an artificial limb. She says, “the wonder called human body, knows how to adapt”.

Sporting courage, Manasi hiked from Gulmarg to LOC (Line of Control) point, over uneven terrain in extremely cold weather, proving her point that “once you accept a disability and practice around it, it suddenly disappears”.

Dare to dream

Manasi believes that “Time by itself, does not heal. It is what we do with our time, that makes all the difference. So, it is important to do something today to make our tomorrow better”.She restarted badminton as part of her rehabilitation programme and made a new circle of amputee friends. Her positive attitude and friendly demeanor drew forth a lot of goodwill from colleagues and caretakers. Noticing her passion and agility at the game, a fellow player suggested that she try for the National team. Daring to dream, she started practising for it earnestly and went on to play her first international tournament in Spain. 

Game changer

While working in an Ahmedabad bank, quite by chance, she met Pullela Gopichand, the ace player and legendary coach to stalwarts like P.V.Sindhu and Saina Nehwal. Boldly, Manasi approached him with a request to coach her. Taken aback by her focus and grit, he eventually agreed. It was a challenge for him also to coach a para athlete, and he would put himself in her predicament and experiment, to be able to guide her properly on the finer nuances of the game. In 2014, Manasi changed the course of her life, when she decided to play as a professional. She left her job, invested in a light weight prosthesis, and started rigorous training of three sessions daily, at the Pullela Gopichand Academy, Hyderabad.

Shining star

The International Paralympic Committee’s vision is to enable para athletes to achieve sporting excellence and recognises BWF (Badminton World Federation) as the global body promoting and regulating para badminton activities. Depending on the type of physical impairment, there are six sport classes for this event. Manasi qualifies in the SL3 category, wherein the para athlete must play the entire match , standing up. In 2015, Manasi represented India and won a silver, in her first BWF Para-Badminton World Championship held in England, followed by a bronze in 2017, in Korea. She participated in Asian Championships, claiming a bronze in 2016. She won two more bronzes in 2018 at the Asian Para Games, Indonesia and the International Championships, Thailand.
Smashes of victory

The courts were alive with thunderous applause and constant cheering of ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. Defying  all odds, Manasi had won her maiden gold in women’s single, Para Badminton World Championship 2019,in Basel, Switzerland.

This was no mean feat. An ‘Arjuna’ awardee and undisputed World No1, Parul Parmar was a rival to be reckoned with. To make matters worse, she was Manasi’s idol and role model, who had beaten her hollow in the rallies held earlier that year. Facing an opponent who was more accomplished and experienced than her was a definite setback, but Manasi, recalling the guidance of her coach, took a firm grip on her emotions, became calm and started concentrating on the match, to the exclusion of all else. There was an imperceptible shift, uplifting her morale and boosting her confidence. Suddenly, she felt she was in command of the situation and that the scales were tipping in her favour. Her hand moved with a mind of its own, and with effortless master strokes and smashes of victory, she beat Parul, scoring an awesome 21-12 and 21-7.

Manasi comments,”I am super excited and super elated. It is a matter of great pride for me to win this title.” She continues, “Disability does not matter. What matters is what you have inside of you.”

28 August 2019, PM Narendra Modi tweeted,
“130 crore Indians are extremely proud of the Indian Para Badminton contingent which has brought home 12 medals at the BWF World Championship, 2019. Congratulations to the entire team, whose success is extremely gladdening and motivating. Each of these players is remarkable”. 
The Government gave 1.82 cr cash prize to this team of medallists.

Shuttler for a cause

Manasi finds herself being treated as a celebrity of sorts. She uses this new status to voice her concerns for the betterment of the disabled in our society. She reveals that a whopping 20-25 lakhs is the cost of a prosthesis, which needs to be replaced every five years, and for competing athletes, a spare one is essential as an emergency backup. Unlike foreign countries, no insurance is available incase of damage or loss of the prosthesis. She feels a waiver of GST on an artificial leg is reasonable because” it’s like I have to pay tax for walking”.  She appeals to the government to provide enablers that make local transport accessible to the handicapped. She also urges corporates to sponsor para athletes as their personal savings are insufficient to cover their special needs. 

Moving ahead

In a short span of five years, Manasi has earned a string of accolades, blazing a trail of hope and courage, for para athletes around the world. “Try to become your Best”, says Manasi and raises the benchmark for herself by setting a tougher goal of entering the para badminton debut in Tokyo Paralympics 2020-21. Undaunted, that among the 14 badminton events to be held, her SL3 category for women is not listed, she aims to qualify for mixed doubles, and has started rehearsing for it. 

Her journey from being an unfortunate victim in a tragic incident, to becoming a master shuttler of merit, is unquestionably a narrative of triumph. A forehand of focused vision and fortitude, coupled with a backhand of disciplined determination and hard work, have paved the way for Manasi to win, not only in her sport, but also in the game called Life. 


Anuradha Pittie

Anuradha Pittie is a freelance interior designer, floral decorator and creative arts enthusiast.

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