Leap of Faith: The Making of India’s Jump Queen Aishwarya Babu – Henry Club

About two years ago when jumper Aishwarya Babu was getting married, she made a condition to her now-husband Nandan Kumar – that athletics would be her priority, not family. Despite the disapproval of many distant relatives and friends, Kumar, a sports lover, immediately agreed. Kumar jokingly says, “I can’t take his name right now or else there will be a fight.

After nearly two years of marriage, the 25-year-old, who competed in both the long jump and triple jump at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, feels getting married was one of the best decisions both personally and career-wise. that he has taken.

Aishwarya was the standout athlete at the recently concluded Inter-State Meet in Chennai, where she recorded the best long jump (6.73m) on Indian soil since 2005 and broke a decade-old triple jump national record with a jump of 14.14m.

Apart from a handful of spectators at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Aishwarya’s joint family in Bengaluru patiently followed their programs on shoddy live streams on the Athletics Federation of India’s YouTube channel.

“Whenever Aishwarya participates, we all sit on our smart TVs and watch the streaming. Nobody moves. Everyone here is a huge supporter,” says Kumar, who works at the governor’s office in Bengaluru.

When Aishwarya won the triple jump event in Chennai, a reporter asked if her husband was also an athlete. “Not an athlete. He is just a common man,” he replied.

Over the past two years, Kumar and her in-laws have been Aishwarya’s support system as she still grapples with suspicion even after a career-threatening ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear, which occurred back in 2018.

“To be honest, I am very lucky. My husband and in-laws are one of the main reasons for me to do well in sports. Whenever my match gets closer, I start harassing my husband with my words. II Him Will keep bothering saying that there is pain here and there. He is the first person to receive my calls after my schedule. He is also my personal masseuse when I am at home,” laughs Aishwarya .

Kumar says he doesn’t find the “slogans” disturbing in any way. “I knew what I was getting into when I married a player,” he quipped.

But jokes apart, Kumar admires Aishwarya’s dedication towards her art. “I never knew a sportsperson’s life is so challenging. She leaves for training in the morning when I am sleeping and when I return from work she is already asleep. Even though we are together We live under one roof, but there are days when we don’t even talk to each other. My respect for them only grows every day,” says Kumar.

Aishwarya’s mother-in-law Sumangalma is her top fan. Whenever Aishwarya wins a medal, she makes sure that her group of friends in the colony is updated. “She wakes up early every morning and cooks breakfast for me. She never lets me go for training on an empty stomach,” says Aishwarya.

Aishwarya and Kumar’s marriage seems almost fixed. They grew up as neighbors near Anaikkal, near the Tamil Nadu border. After “friends”, their ways parted after Kumar moved to Bengaluru with his brother, who is now a top cop in the city. But for almost a decade without any communication, Aishwarya’s name came up when Kumar’s family was looking for an alliance.

“My family asked her mother if they knew any girl because I wanted to get married. Her mother asked, ‘Why not Aishwarya?’ My father, who is no more, had always loved her and predicted that she would one day become a top athlete. We both immediately said yes,” says Kumar.

sprint loss, jump gain

Although Aishwarya entered sports at the age of 14, her true potential was realized only after joining Alva Foundation for her higher studies and sports training in Moodbidri, Karnataka. Veteran coach Vasant Jogi was impressed with Aishwarya’s “small” pace and conducted a biomotor ability test, which touches on key areas such as speed, power, explosiveness and endurance. Aishwarya was training to become a sprinter by that time, but Jogi was anticipating that she would do better in the long jump despite her small height. Young Aishwarya had full faith in Coach Jogi and took the big leap without revealing much.

“Since she is not as tall as most jumpers, I designed a training regimen where we focused on her biggest strength – speed. In the tests we did, we found that her muscles move faster. Long jumps Well adapted for and then we added the triple jump too,” recalled Aishwarya’s first coach.

Another crucial moment in his career came when he was spotted by 2010 Asian Games heptathlon bronze medalist Ayyappa Pramila during a railway test two years ago. Pramila’s husband and coach Mr. Ayyappa admitted her to his academy in Bengaluru, where she currently trains. Like Aishwarya’s previous coach, Ayyappa too focused on his pace and explosiveness.

“Her two biggest traits are her speed and explosive ability. In fact, if you look at her, you’ll ask ‘she jumps 6.73 meters?’ She is half that of Anju. She almost flies off the runway,” Aishwarya said just after covering 6.73m in Chennai. The jump achieved in the heats made her India’s second best after the legendary Anju Bobby George jumper Dia, which still retains the elusive national mark of 6.83 metres.

career hazard

Aishwarya’s biggest struggle so far has been a career-threatening ACL tear on her right knee in 2018, which kept her out of competition for almost a year. “I had to have surgery. I was depressed and thought my career would be over. I used to wake up crying. I lost all muscle strength in my right leg,” she says.

Aishwarya and coach Ayyappa credit senior arthroscopy surgeon Dr Madan Ballal – who operated Aishwarya’s knee – and designed her rehab program – for getting back on track. “An ACL tear can end the career of an elite athlete. But Aishwarya responded well. She was very determined. Mindset matters a lot,” says Dr. Ballal, former team doctor of Indian Super League club Bengaluru FC.

Dr Ballal found in his assessment that Aishwarya had exceptional muscle fiber and build. “She’s of elite level. You can’t even compare her to a recreational athlete. You see she’s not as tall as other jumpers, but she’s so light on her feet; her muscular strength and balance her strength.” It is,” explained Dr Ballal, who was also a bronze medalist in tennis at the 1994 National Games.

Despite the recent success on the domestic circuit, Aishwarya is not satisfied. The India season leader is at a crossroads whether to switch up her jumping technique or spend more hours perfecting her current style. In the long jump, she uses the hang technique, as opposed to the more modern and accepted hitch kick method – where athletes cycle with their feet while traveling by air.

“Most athletes now use the hitch kick method. I’ve tried it but haven’t mastered it. To progress to the next level, I have to learn it somehow, or just put more emphasis on my current method.” Gotta focus. I am still in discussion with my coach but I know I will be stuck if I don’t make changes,” says Aishwarya.

A major change in technique could mean a temporary drop in Aishwarya’s performance until she gets the hang of it. But after jumping off the sprint, and successfully battling a major injury, Aishwarya has a habit of mastering the change by being firmly with her family.