In March 2018, 18-year-old Elavenil Valarivan created history. Competing in her second Junior World Cup in Sydney, the Tamil Nadu-born shooter first set a world record in the qualification round and went on to win gold in the 10m air rifle event. Valarivan insists she did not expect to do that after a massive mix-up in flights resulted in a tired Indian squad reaching Sydney on the day of her event.
“But the moment I entered the lane, the only thing that came to my mind was to give my best shot. My team was there, and I had to perform for them, if not for me,” the young shooter told reporters at Karni Singh Shooting Range in New Delhi Wednesday.
At the same event in Sydney, she won the team gold with Shreya Agarwal and Zeena Khitta. Later, at the 10m air rifle trials in Delhi in June, she surpassed her previous world record to win a junior and senior gold. The same month, she won another gold medal at the ISSF World Cup in Germany. In August, she participated in the Asian Games but failed to qualify for the final. In November, she broke another junior world record to win gold in a 10m rifle mixed team event along with Hriday Hazarika at the 11th Asian Championship.
“The year 2018 was very special for me…I was eagerly waiting for the 2019 season to begin as it is a very big year with the upcoming Olympics in mind,” she said on the sidelines of her first-ever senior ISSF World Cup event.
Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela have already earned Olympic quotas in 10m air rifle event. With the maximum number of quotas already booked in the event, Valarivan said she is only focused on doing her best in the competition and is not focused on scores.
“I just want to be the best of me. I have an injury. I am only going to participating in the 10m rifle and not going to go for 50m Rifle 3 -positions event,” she said.
‘Travelling 60km a day was not easy’
Valarivan was always into sports, but wasn’t even aware of shooting till she was 12. Her father, who was pursuing his M.Sc at that time, taught chemistry in a school. The daughter of one of her father’s students taught her how to handle a rifle. “She was a really good shooter. She had a spare weapon. So she asked me if I wanted to give it a shot. So I tried it out. I started it for fun. Eventually, I got into it and became professional by the time I was 15,” she said.
After turning professional, Valarivan had to travel to a school with a shooting range in Sanand for her training, which was 30 km from her home in Maninagar district of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Balancing studies and shooting wasn’t easy.
“Initially, I used to take a bus at 5 am from my home alone. But then, I took science in Class 11. Big fault (laughs)… It was one of the most difficult times of my shooting career. I was not able to focus on my shooting, not able to focus on my studies either. Travelling 60 km a day was a huge task at that time,” she said.
“Later, when my boards started. I left home at 4:30 am. I trained from 5:30 to 11:00 am. I used to drive back, keep my stuff and then attended tuitions, which were all day long. I used to reach home by 9:00 pm,” she said.
Busy with shooting and studies, Valarivan had no time for friends.
“I did not have friends at that time. I rarely attended school. All my studies happened in my tuitions. I don’t remember going out for movies or hanging out with my friends,” she said.
Valarivan, who is currently pursuing her B.A. in English Literature from Gujarat University, says she still doesn’t have many friends.
“I am kind of a loner. Shooting is such a lonely sport as well. At the end of the day, you are standing alone. I feel that it’s a kind of advantage. But yeah, sometimes, when I sit back at home, I feel like I should have people around me,” she said.
After her schooling, Valarivan started training under former Olympic bronze medallist Gagan Narang. Speaking about her relation with the former India shooter, she said: “He is fun and it has been an easygoing training with him. He is also talkative like me, but he can also be quiet at times. It has been fun training with him.”
‘Sleep is important’
In her free time, the 19-year-old shooter says she likes to read novels, enjoys photography and playing basketball, going on long drives alone and watching films. She has already seen Gully Boy.
“I also like spending time with family, which, unfortunately, I rarely get to do these days,” she said.
Valarivan also enjoys sleeping. In fact, she says sleep is the one thing on her mind before the start of a competition.
“Before the start of the event, I feel like going to sleep (laughs). I am always sleepy before my events. I feel I have one more hour and then I will go back to my bed and I will sleep (laughs)… Sleep is important,” she said.