Ravinder Singh Khaira’s five-year journey, from a taxi driver in Melbourne to an elite athlete, was complete when he picked up the javelin gold at the national inter-state meet in Lucknow last week, making the cut for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Starting as a volleyball player, Khaira competed in state and national level tournaments, but soon switched to javelin throw.
Despite making it to the national camp in 2007, Khaira was not able to find a job. So, a couple of years later, he left his hometown of Sangrur and boarded a flight to Melbourne, with little money in his pocket.
While his primary aim was to complete his diploma in automotive engineering in Australia, Khaira drove a taxi on weekends to make ends meet.
In Melbourne, a chance meeting with world champion Tero Pitkamaki of Finland proved to be a turning point for Khaira. At Pitkamaki’s insistence, Khaira enrolled at the Victoria Institute of Sports and started taking lessons in javelin throw. “I was completely enamoured by the sport. I would train regularly and started getting results soon,” said the 27-year-old.
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But the expenses of coaching and diet made a severe dent in his budget. Though his parents, both teachers, occasionally sent him money, it was not enough. Khaira had to put in more hours behind the wheel — he worked for 26 hours over weekends. Despite the demands of his course work, Khaira still took out time to complete 12-14 training sessions, which took up another 26 hours, over the week to pursue his passion.
“I don’t have happy memories of Australia but I cherish the moments I spent at Victoria Institute of Sports and my coach Iain Simmons,” said Khaira, who won the Victorian javelin throw championship twice. As he made rapid progress, his ambition to wear the India colours also grew.
Last year, after winning the gold at the national open athletics championship in Ranchi, Khaira was named in the core list of athletes for the Commonwealth and the Asian Games. Khaira regularly touched the 80m mark during practice, which would have been enough to qualify for Glasgow, but he knew he had to perform in Lucknow to make the cut for Glasgow.
When the time came, he could not hit the 80s, but his throw of 78.02m on his fifth attempt in Lucknow sealed his spot in the contingent for Glasgow. The effort bettered his personal best of 75.47m and also went past the Commonwealth Games’ qualification standard of 77.29m.
“It’s a dream come true for me. When I started off as a taxi driver, nobody gave me a chance to fare well in this sport, leave alone qualify for the Commonwealth Games. With this achievement, I am just delighted,” said Khaira.