In a country with more than a billion people and more than a thousand sports, it is surprisingly delightful and uniquely common at the same time to find stories of distinctive sporting individuals who have extraordinary tales to share with the world. This is a story of passion and perseverance, a sine curve of failures and accomplishments, of falling down and getting up. This is the story of Anoli Shah, a champion who found her adrenaline as well as her Zen in the thrilling and adventurous world of roller skating.
Starting with a simple summer vacation batch and those beginners four wheel roller skates, her journey has now brought her at a level where she has had the honour of representing India at the International level. In a career spanning 11 years, she has been a consistent medal winner for the state of Gujarat since the year 2006 and has won many accolades both inside and outside the country.
“Bronze in 14th Asian Roller Sports Championship 2010, Asian Beach Games 2012, World Speed Skating Chamionship 2012, 15th Asian Roller Skating Championship, World Roller Speed Skating Championship 2013, Flanders Grand Prix Open World Championship”
She says, without a pause. Our team sitting on the table, looks at her starry eyed.
With a glitter in her eyes and a mental flashback, she describes the impact that roller skating has had in her life.
In a nation where the sporting imagination of its citizens has been so overwhelmingly cricket oriented, Anoli begs to differ and earnestly elucidates the different kind of races that are involved and also talks about what she thinks of the subtle disregard that people show for the sport and that characteristic feeling of being not understood which is so prominent among the people who choose passion over convention.
“Long distance skating is my forte. So we have races like sprints, points to points, elimination, marathons and others. Now in points to points race, it’s a 10 km race which is roughly 50 laps and the skater who finishes first in a lap gets 2 points and the second one gets 1 point. So at the end of the 50 lap race, it is not about how you finish the race but it’s the number of points that you have gathered that wins you the race. So there is a lot of strategy and manipulation that goes into it and it’s not only about the sprint and the speed. “
“When I started skating, I started it for myself and not for anyone else. I have met enough people who have been flippant about the choice of my sport and even the whole sportsperson concept in general. But I know the number of hours that I have put in and the number of hard sacrifices that I have made. Just because that people don’t understand, you can’t carry that grudge inside you. They don’t know what it feels like to stand on the podium and watch your flag flying high.”
It is a known truth that there is a lot of hard work and training that goes in the backend that allows any athlete to bask in his moments of front-end adulation. Every scar tells a story and with a gritty smile, Anoli tells us about the struggles during her training and those scars that made her stronger in her journey of guts and glory.
“There is this condition of the legs which is called knocking knees in which the knees angle in and touch one another when the legs are straightened. So there is a large gap between your legs when you try to stand straight. Usually models have that and it’s actually helpful to them while ramp walking. But for me, it was a hindrance because while skating when you are on the turns, you need a position where your centre of gravity is perfect which means that your shoulder, your knee and your toe has to be in one line. When I used to train for that, my face literally got red, my eyes used to get teary and it was very difficult. My coach told me that you could quit if you wanted to but then remember how badly you want to win. It took me 8 long years to rectify this condition and today it is 85 percent gone. It was an achievement of another kind. “
Although primarily dispositioned towards roller skating, Anoli has never had any troubles with her grades and owing to such an inherent confidence, she decided that a mere Bachelor’s of Commerce was never going to be enough and hence she started preparing for CAT. Preparing for such a competitive national level examination simultaneously with an equally challenging sport was never going to be an easy job. Anoli talks about the rigorous schedule that she had to follow which would undoubtedly test her perseverance and resolve.
“My day usually started at 4 am and I had an early morning practice session. I used to have my breakfast in the car itself on the way to my CAT coaching centre. After that I had an innocent looking two hour lecture which would almost every time be stretched to a not so innocent 3.5 hrs. I then had my lunch there itself on the stairs which was followed by 2-3 hrs of intensive study mode. And then with a 10 minute snacks break at home, I rushed to my evening training session. By the time I came back to the house, it was almost 10 pm. Dinner was an incomprehensible blur and sleep was hurtfully sweet.”
“I was not a natural sports person. I had to get there. I worked hard and trained diligently to reach this position. Usually for any sport, if you take one and a half month break from the training, it usually takes around 8 months to cover up for that loss. I couldn’t afford that because it would probably take me even longer. So quitting training was out of the option.”
She scored 96 percentile in CAT with converts from premier B-schools of the country. With an exemplar “Like a Boss” moment to all those people who always advise about focusing only on one thing at a time, Anoli achieved her academic goal without sacrificing her passion.
With all the distractions that a teenage kid growing up in the 21st Century faces and not forgetting that perennial question of career choice that has always plagued the youth, it is remarkable to see someone with such a pure dedication and such a sincere form of passion for something and more importantly to maintain it with the same intensity over the span of a decade. With a pinch of fresh vigour in her voice, Anoli talks about the driving force in her life.
“It was the thrill of the races. The competitions. The passion. That feeling of early morning where you put on your skates and it’s so chilly outside but you don’t care. You are on the highways and there is this never ending stretch of grey below you, the unblemished and invigorating green around you and the that clear unadulterated sapphire blue above you. It’s the most amazing feeling in the world.”
Anoli has participated in six international competitions in different countries such as China, Italy, Belgium and Taiwan. She describes her sporting experience in those countries and also points out the different areas where India as a country and Indians as citizens can improve and take some notes from their peers.
“It is lovely, especially when you go to the big sporting countries like China. There is this mutual respect among the people that is so evident. During the race, the competitive feeling is palpable and it gets very intense but once the race is over, you see the same people all cheerful and friendly and the most important thing is that it comes very naturally to them. The people over there are so sweet and so ready to help you. There are little kids who are so impressed by you and they are running around clicking pictures and asking for autographs. The sporting culture there is phenomenal.”
“It’s difficult to find this kind of thing in India. I remember once we were training in Vishakhapatnam and there was this service road just beside the footpath where we had to skate. Now we had specifically requested the people to give us the space on the service road and walk on the footpath. But it was very disappointing to see the nonchalant indifference that we experienced from the people there. In this kind of things, surely we can learn a lot from the people of other countries.”
We all have our support systems. People, in front of whom we can be ourselves, throw tantrums, shout out our frustrations, cry profusely and celebrate grandly. Anoli talks about two of the most important support systems of her life and describes her relation with them and the significant contribution that they have had in her life.
“My coach is like a second father and also a best friend. I can tell him anything and everything. It’s a funny relationship because we are in that comfort zone where at one point he can scold me unabashedly just like a parent would do and on the other hand I can be completely honest and share my doubts and strengths alike just like one would do with a best friend. Along with being one of the best skaters that India has ever produced, he is also one of the best human beings that I have met.”
“Apart from my coach, I have been very closely attached to my father. Right from the time I was a little girl, he has been there to support me, push me forward and to motivate me. He has been equally passionate about my sport, even today and that is something that I am very lucky to have because I can share and talk about the things that I am going through and he can genuinely understand me. Even when things are not working out, some sport politics is going on or any of the phases that I am experiencing, I know that he will be the one to give me the best advice.”
There is no better feeling in the world to see them happy and proud, the people who have devoted such a significant part of their life efforts to see you happy and successful. Anoli shares one such incident which she always remembers before the start of any race and uses it for refuelling her motivation.
“It was my first nationals race and I had won the gold medal. For a moment there, I actually didn’t realize what I had done. I was standing there outside the track and my dad was waiting expectantly for the results and I was just watching him. When the results were announced, I saw that transition of his expression from anxiety to pure euphoria, from a straight line to a curved one and then there were tears in his eyes and everybody started congratulating my dad and patting him on the back. I realized then that it was as much his moment as it was mine. I saw India’s flag flaring up and that moment, that memory keeps me going every single moment. It was such an electrifying feeling to see him proud of me. And somewhere, feeling that my country is proud of me too. “
Considering that Anoli’s story would never have been such an inspiring one if not for her father, I decided to meet the man himself. He was a bespectacled gentleman with a serene face and shades of grey in his hair and one instantly had the feeling that he knew exactly what he was saying. With a smile on his face reminiscent of the journey that he himself had been through with Anoli, he begins his story.
“I always wanted my kids to be engaged in extra curricular and not only the studies. So I initially put her in music. She made a deal with me that we will join together. I agreed and I continued for three years. She agreed and she continued for 15 days. After that, I asked her to pick out something herself and she selected skating and we have never looked back.”
“I remember a lot of defining moments of her career like her first national, her first gold medal, her first international and many others but the one that I would like to share was more of a defining moment for me. A lot of their training happens on the highways and even though there is a lot of precaution involved, as a father, you always try to be more careful and more attentive. So during one such training session, she was skating at the speed of about 45 Kmph on the highway and suddenly there was this car which roughly sped past her. She became a bit disoriented and ended up having three somersaults before she came to a stop. I had my heart in my mouth but fortunately she managed to escape without any serious injuries. There were a lot of times later also when she has come home with her knees and elbows and her face all scratched and bleeding.”
“These are the moments when you fear the safety of your children and there is this dilemma in your mind whether to let them continue with it or not. But I have always believed in the no pain no gain concept and it was then I made the tough decision of allowing her to pursue what she was so passionate about. You always wonder at that time that is it the right decision to make but it is in hindsight that you actually see the result of that decision and I am pretty happy with my decision today. If you give your children wings, it’s only fair that you allow them to fly too.”
It left with me with a very satisfied feeling that I could listen to such an inspiring anecdote about belief, passion and courage and just as I was standing at the door, ready to take my leave, he said something to me that would be enough to summarize this wonderful story.
“You always have that option of taking the easy route and making a convenient lifestyle for yourselves. Later in life, money won’t matter. It is the tough decisions that will matter. Follow your passion, do what you love and you will have no regrets in life. You will do great things one day.”
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