Ahmedabad: Vishwaraj Jadeja has gone a long way—from arid Gujarat to the cooler climes of Europe—in pursuit of his sport, long track ice speed skating. The 32-year-old, who hails from Ahmedabad, has set his eyes on 2022 Winter Olympics, after missing the trials for this year’s Games on account of injury.

Speaking from Utrecht in the Netherlands, where he’s been based since 2013, Jadeja spoke about his goal of representing India at the Winter Olympics, his training, life away from home, India’s sporting culture and his hopes for it.

Standing out

“I have broken national records on ice about 65 times over various distances and have been the recipient of the Sardar Patel Award in the year 2005 (from the Gujarat government) for excellence in roller-skating. Gujarat has one of the best infrastructures for inline skating in the country. My father, Raju Jadeja, has been a roller-skating coach for 25 years with over 500 national medals under his belt. Whenever there are roller-skating events at the regional level, the participation has outnumbered that of cricket.”

“Switching to ice skating was not a snap decision. Inline roller-skating provides a very strong base for long track ice speed skating, though it is a completely different sport, and my father ensured that I was the state champion for a prolonged period of time, that is, at least three years, and a national medallist, and then I shifted base to Europe as the infrastructure over there is very helpful to mould oneself for the Games.”

The exposure abroad

“I remember at the Asian Winter Games last year one of the Korean athletes expressing shock when I informed him that I am participating in all the distance events (500m, 1,000m, 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m and mass start) of speed skating. I was simply making the most of the opportunity I was getting.”

“Since I have been living in the Netherlands, I’ve seen that sports is a part of their life and culture. What cricket is to India, speed skating is to the Netherlands. It gets more viewers on primetime and the ratings go through the roof whenever the nationals of the winter sports are aired on TV.”

Never say die attitude and love for his country

The proverb “Where there is a will, there is a way” applies to Jadeja, who says that the Sports Authority of Gujarat has gone out of its way in helping him get a part of the financial help for a year from the government and he is extremely grateful for that. This makes him hopeful of future financial help from other avenues and private sources, too. While he has tried to raise funds through popular crowd-funding source, his attempt was not much of a success.

“But it’s okay. I have an ever-supportive family and many friends and well-wishers in Holland and India who’ve been there and helped me get through.”

“Coming from a family of sportsmen, I have always dreamt of representing the country in the Olympics. People believe in displaying their patriotism, while we sportsmen and women live by it.”

Calling his coach Wim Nieuwenhuizen his Dronacharya, Jadeja says the strict taskmaster is a “champion maker” who ensures that everyone who trains under him is moulded into a winner.

“It is his meticulous approach to coaching and keen eye for timings that helped me in improving my speed and accuracy in movement.”

About Jadeja, Nieuwenhuizen says, “He has a strong mind, and it is his fighting spirit that keeps him going.”

Tackling every roadblock, like a boss

“Once, we were going through our regular cycling practices on ice as part of our training when it started to snow. Within minutes, the roads had become wet, but we kept going and by the end of it, I was completely drenched and dripping. But I later changed, dried myself and went ahead with the further legs of the training that day. These are minor hiccups that may come across your way…but it is the never-say-die attitude which keeps us marching towards our goal. The mental conditioning is very important.”

“Injuries happen in every sport, even in long track ice speed skating. I’ve had crashes during training. The one that proved costly for me was a knee injury during my training for the qualifications of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and I had to miss the trials due to it. Now, I have set my eyes on the 2022 Winter Games (in Beijing).”

India’s winter sports infrastructure and sporting culture

“I’ve had friends from Europe visit the northern belt of India and on returning they tell me how they find the snow-capped regions of the North and North-East more beautiful than the Alps. I don’t even feign surprise, as I know they are, right!”

“India is country which has 10 states with ample snow and ice in winter, and there are remote places in Leh and Ladakh where very talented ice hockey teams can be nurtured. We just have to make optimum usage of the resources we have to make winter sports successful. We, in India, can draw inspiration from European countries and nurture winter sports by giving the immense pool of talent available to us the opportunities to perform.”

Sujith Nambiar tweets at @sujith17nambiar.

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