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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Go-to Girl for all things Olympics

Her porcelain skin,kind eyes,winsome smile,all make for a breathtakingly beautiful outer mask that hides the gruff,endearingly crass Haryanvi deep inside.

Written by Kabir Mandrekar | Mumbai | Published: November 10, 2011 3:44:15 am

Her porcelain skin,kind eyes,winsome smile,all make for a breathtakingly beautiful outer mask that hides the gruff,endearingly crass Haryanvi deep inside. Born in a remote village in Rohtak – which constituted of five huts and a primary school – Anuradha Beniwal has overcome a varied degree of obstacles,explored frightfully new environments to add layers to her enigmatic personality.

Today,Beniwal is the player manager of Lakshya – an NGO started by a conglomerate of local Pune businessmen. She handles problems ranging from the purchasing of tickets to scheduling of physiotherapy appointments to admission issues in colleges,as and when the athletes need them and acts as a linkman between the two parties.

Over her tenure of three years,the sports-women of Balewadi have become admirers of this enigma and the men have been known to converse regularly with her in Haryanvi,peppered with harmless abuses. She has,in this time,become an unbreachable barrier between the Olympic level athletes and their external worries and has even come so far as to being called the ‘janitor’ – for the different sorts of messes that she cleans up for her players.

Her approach to work is a bit different and certainly unique. ‘When in Rome,do as the Romans do’ is the ideology she follows. So,when in a shooting range,Beniwal does what the shooters do. As she takes the weapon in hand she squeezes the rifle-butt under her arm and sways her hip towards the target to rest her elbow. She closes her left eye and simultaneously lowers her head into the scope and gets ready to fire the gun. She hardly hits the target,but it doesn’t matter as her aim is a different one. As a player manager,Beniwal gets into the shoes of the athlete in order to get into their mind. She takes a ten-day training course of the concerned sport so that she can solve the minutest of problems of the athletes to allow them to focus wholly on their performance. “The barrel is very heavy,it causes a lot of strain on the shoulders. The amount of focus required is intense and the target is almost impossible to hit,” she says in between shots.

Beniwal does not restrict herself to the shooting range. She donned the gloves while in the Captain Hawa Singh boxing academy in Bhiwani – an academy adopted by Lakshya – hit the heavy bags and the speed bags and even went through some speed and strengthening drills on her way to investigating the problems of international boxer – Pooja Rani. “The training was intense. After just one day,I couldn’t move my body. I found it extremely difficult to get out of my bed. I realised how much importance should be given to recovery and how much these boxers needs a massage therapist,” she said.

AS a five-year-old,in the Kheri Meham village,Beniwal was caught having a heated argument and even hurling abuses at a man more than thrice her age. It was then that her father,Krishan Singh Beniwal,determined the environment to be unsuitable for a young girl and made the unprecedented break away from the family village. The new urban lifestyle meant a complete overhaul of the life of the youngster,which started from the removal of the ‘parda’ – the first in the family to perform this so-called tabooed act. In accordance with his rebellious and unorthodox nature,her father – a teacher by profession – considered the education system to be incompetent and home-schooled his daughter.

When he saw that she shared a liking for chess,he made her practice it day and night. She went on to become the national champion and India’s number one player at one stage. She participated in many international competitions and had a golden opportunity to make a career for herself. But the burden of travel expenditure became too heavy for her middle-class family to bear. At the age of seventeen,she had to make the tough choice between continuing her chess and pursuing her studies. She chose the latter. “I missed out on a childhood,on even the smallest scale of a social circle. It was time for me to be welcomed into the world,” she said.

The initiation into college life was,quite naturally,a frightful proposition for her. But she adjusted well. She liked it so much that she went on to pursue her English literature honours,a diploma in Journalism and an LLB in Law. But she found her calling in something almost completely unrelated. Not according to her,however. “Sports has always been in my heart. And to be surrounded by an atmosphere of sports like I am now has been a memorable experience. I know what the athletes are going through and the intense pressure to perform. My aim is to get rid of all their external pressures and help improve their productivity on the field,” she said.

She attempts to become more of a friend to the athletes so that she can solve some of their personal issues and her extensive knowledge of Indian languages helps her to do so. She speaks Hindi,English,Haryanvi,Marwadi,Rajashtani,and understands Marathi. This helps her break the barriers of religion and language when it comes to engaging with athletes who hail from different parts of the country. Hariom Singh – an international shooter who has already booked a place in the Olympics,comes from a very poor background and dealt with a lot of personal hardships before becoming a shooter. Beniwal lends a sympathetic ear when needed. “One day he was very stressed and was missing his family a lot. He was a little more worried than usual about his parents and this was just before a tournament. I sat down with him and he just opened up to me about everything. It was a burden off his shoulders and he felt much better. He did well in tournament too. I am always there when he needs me,” she said.

When Ankita Raina – India no 7 tennis player – graduated with only 50 percent marks in her tenth standard exams she found it difficult to secure admission in a commerce college. Beniwal met the sports teacher of the Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce (BMCC) and advocated the case of Raina’s tennis achievements benefiting the college,thus securing admission for her. Along with the personal problems of the athletes,Beniwal is also in touch with many of the support staff,often devising ways to reduce the stress on the athletes. “The doctor had informed me that when the shooters breathe with their stomachs their body movement is more and their focus gets disturbed. However,the yoga teacher informed me that when they don’t breathe with their stomach they inhale too much carbon-dioxide and they get dull very fast. These are the small issues that could make a big difference. We are still trying to figure out a solution,” she said.

Like her athletes,Beniwal too has London dreams. With the success of every athlete,with each flag being raised in victory and the national anthem resounding in the background,the athletes will shed tears of joy. Beniwal will feel a sense of satisfaction. “I will have contributed in my small way to their success. That is enough for me,” she says as she practices her dribbling on the poly-grass pitches of Balewadi with hockey stick in hand. Lakshya is looking to adopt a hockey player and Beniwal has already begun the preparation.

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