Mr. Anand Kumar
International Para Badminton Player
His belief in life is that hardwork and perseverance surpasses all disability. He has won a total of 110 medals till date in both national and international tournaments in his journey of 18 years. Gold - 59, Silver - 17 and Bronze - 34. He was also the former holder of Rank 1 for Para Badminton Singles and Doubles.
Anand has many awards and achievements to his name on both national and international levels. He’s also running a Badminton Academy of his own where he’s sponsored three underprivileged kids in terms of training and equipment. His idea with his kids is for them to have fun and enjoy the game rather than chasing medals.
It was an honour for us to have him visit us at Decathlon and share his story. He has recently won a bronze medal for India in the Asian Games and is preparing for the 2020 Olympics. We wish him all the best for the same.
Hello Anand, super stoked to have you with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey into Para Badminton?
Brought up in Bangalore, my Badminton journey started by an accident. There was always something within me toward the sport. Whenever there was an event in school, I was always taking part.
Basically I started as a table tennis player in my college and won some medals at college level.
Than i started playing badminton regularly. I was not thinking of playing professionally.
Also I was not aware of the para sports .Then i met a player who was playing for India in the deaf and dumb category which made me think in the direction.
I thought that I would be able to play para badminton tournaments but there weren’t any tournaments till 2001. In 2001, I got a chance to play for India in Germany.
Okay, so we'll rewind a little bit and go back to the time before you started playing badminton professionally. When did you realize that you were talented in the sport should take it up in a more serious manner?
I used to play Badminton with able-bodied people and easily defeat them. When I came to know that there's something called para-badminton, I was under the assumption that If I'm able to defeat able-bodied bodied people, how difficult would it be to defeat the para participants. But when I went to the international tournament, I realised the quality of the players and I was nowhere close to them at that time.
I understood that what I was playing was non-professional badminton and I should now mold my way into professional training. I approached coaches but they were not ready to coach me, maybe because of the age factor, the disability factor and also financial factors since my parents weren't really supporting me. Later I found Mr. Narayanaswamy. He was coaching very close to my house. I approached him but even he refused to coach me so I didn't have an option but to sit and watch the game while he was training others. I used to learn what he was teaching others and implementing the same in my game. That's how I started Training.
So you're the true Ekalavya?
Yes, that's a funny story. When I got the Ekalavya award, a reporter from Karnataka told me, "Anand, today this award got some value, the real Ekalavya got an Ekalavya Award." Just like Ekalavya, a character from the epic "The Mahābhārata," who self-taught himself in the gurukul of guru Drona, I too watched Narayanswamy teaching and learned the sport. Luckily later he became my coach and took me into his private training session. Today also I follow his words and teachings. He played a major role in my success story.
Do you do a parallel job along with your practice?
My education is till 2nd PU. I stopped my studies and just started playing badminton for passion. There are jobs available with sports quota but based on my education. it's more on a clerical level so I decided to do what I love. I've opened my own training center where I train kids to follow the same path and stay fit myself.
So you started playing in 2001 and now it's 2018. Is there that one thing that you do, like a prayer, or touching the floor before a tournament that hasn't changed since then?
Initially I would but I don't anymore because I feel that If I'm confident, that's enough. Confidence is a really big factor for me.
What would you say is your biggest achievement so far? What is that moment when you really felt it?
I've won bronze in some of the Championships but I always remember them playing the country National Anthem for the gold winner. I remember standing on the podium and feeling like crying. That's when a thought came to my mind that If I need to win a medal, it has to be gold so that I'm able to hear my National Anthem. Within three years, I won a silver and many players came to congratulate me but I was like I don't want to win a medal, I want to win the championship. They call you a bronze medalist or a silver medalist but they never call you a gold medalist, they call you the champion.
So that moment finally arrived, the Indian Flag was flown and I was standing to my National Anthem. That moment was a goosebumps moment. Whenever I remember that moment, until the end of my life, it's a great memory.
What are some of the other hobbies that you have?
I don't really have any other hobbies as such because whatever I do, I do with complete concentration. Right now the only thing I am concentrating on is Badminton.
I also play table tennis because that's the sport I started with and it helps me develop my skills and techniques for Badminton. It also helps me in improving my reflexes and reduce the response time.
You have a record for getting a medal at 41, is that what you consider as "the record" for yourself?
I don't want to make this my record. I want to make many more records. I started playing badminton at the age of 19 and my professional career at the age of 23. I've been playing for 18 years but this is my first Asian Games Medal. I feel like the older I'm getting, my successes are increasing. Probably coming with experience. So yes, I feel I'm yet to peak. Age is just a number and it has never affected me in any condition.
Once a reporter asked me when I was going to retire. I told him that I have many dreams, one of them is to play in the Olympics and win a medal for my country. Once I achieve my dream, I will retire. So the next question he asked me is, "so if you don't win a medal in the 2020 Olympics, your dream remains unfulfilled?" My answer to this was, "why are they stopping Olympics after 2020?" If I don't win a medal in 2020, I try in 2024. So the next day headline was, "Anand to win Olympics medal at the age of 42!"
This is a message I want to pass on that age is not a factor. If you have a goal and you work hard toward it, you'll be able to achieve it. For me, confidence is success.
Do you think there will be many more medals in your name from the kids that you’re training?
Yes I hope so infact some of them have started playing nationally. But I always believe in encouraging my kids to have fun and enjoy the sport over medals.
Let's talk a little bit about the challenges that you faced?
My journey from day 1 to today has been a challenge. I began without any support, not from my parents, teachers or even any coach. In fact, I practiced outdoors without any coach till I played my first international tournament and even the second.
Also, Para-Badminton is a sport without proper funds and support from the government. A lot of time funds weren't coming to me properly because of my age. The government is more eager to support youngsters. I'm very sorry to say this but whenever a person wins a medal for the country and comes back, there's a huge crowd waiting to welcome them or atleast the family members but I have to take a cab to get home.
These challenges when they come your way can be very demotivating. How do you overcome them and continue to play?
When I started and didn't receive any financial support, I made up my mind that I want to play for my happiness and self-satisfaction. Obviously winning a medal for the country is always a very proud feeling for me but I try not to keep any expectations. A win is a great satisfaction for me so I try not to keep any expectations which in turn helps to not get myself demotivated. In this level, we should be prepared otherwise I wouldn't have achieved any of what I have achieved today.