Before every competition, Tejaswin Shankar makes it a point to set a target for himself. As per his standard operating procedure, the high jumper looked up the Athletics Federation of India website to find the indoor jump national mark ahead of his first competition since joining the Kansas State University last year. But much to his surprise, he could not find any information.
“I know Wikipedia is not a reliable source, but I looked up the mark there (2.18 m) and said ‘this will be my target’,” says Shankar over a call from the US.
Representing his University at the KU-KSU-WSU Triangular Trophy on Saturday, Shankar achieved his Wikipedia-learnt target. Although the Delhi lad equalled an 11-year-old national record set by Hari Shankar Roy at the 2007 Doha Indoor Asian Championships, he was left disappointed on not bettering it, despite picking the gold at the tri-University meet. “Abhi toh record bhi nahi toota. I am a little disappointed with my performance. But this is just the first competition of the season,” he says, of what was also his first meet in the States. The 19-year-old, who owns the outdoor national record of 2.26m set in the 2016 Junior Nationals, moved to the US on a four-year scholarship last year.
The 6’4” athlete has a very rigorous schedule at the University. His day begins at six in the morning and he goes to bed around 11. He admits it’s not an easy task to juggle classes and training.
“In school, even if I missed classes the teachers wouldn’t create a fuss. There have been instances where I have skipped exams for my competition and yet I used to pass ‘with a little help’ from my teachers. Here, they are very strict. If I don’t secure 60 percent in my exams, I won’t be allowed to pursue athletics.” he says.
Shankar, who’s pursuing a degree in business administration, is still finding it tough to adjust to his new environment. Most part of his initial months were spent face-timing his mother and school friends. He was a bit surprised to see how “independent” people his age were in the US. “They clear out the garbage on their own. Do their laundry, dishes and even mop the floor. That was a little shocking for me. Here in Delhi, I had the help doing it for me,” he says.
Conversing in English was never a problem for Shankar but he feels he’s missing out on the joy of speaking in Hindi. “Jab tak ek-do Hindi mein gaali nahi dee, toh mazaa nahi aata,” he chuckles. The toughest part is not getting to feast on “ghar ka khanna” though.
“Food is a very emotional topic, the less said the better. I am a vegetarian and the options for the likes of me are very less. You will see 10 varieties of meat dishes but hardly anything for us. I absolutely miss home made food,” he says before spelling out a long list of dishes he has not eaten in a long while.
But these are small pains which Tejaswin understands he has to bear for his greater good. This will be the first time that Shankar will get to train with a world-class coach Cliff Rovelto – who trains London silver medallist Erik Kynard – for such a long period. And competing in the collegiate circuit will give him an opportunity to compete with the cream of young athletes in America .
Not only has he had to modify his eating habits but training routine as well. “The Americans focus a lot on weight training. We do weights four-times a week here. And there are vigorous exercises,” he says.
Shankar feels he’s slowly getting the hang of competing indoors. “With India having no real indoor facilities, our athletes don’t know what to expect at a competition. Although I prefer competing outdoors, indoors too is fun. The environment is controlled so you don’t have to worry about the wind or weather. It does feel a little claustrophobic and there is loud music blaring out of the speakers. So keeping focus is key indoors. As such, he is very popular among other sportspersons at the University, and his maiden competition evinced a lot of attention from the stands.
An athlete who boasts of very strong calf muscles, he could use that power for the explosive lift on way to his gold. Shankar will travel back to India for the Federation Cup in March — the qualifying event for this year’s Commonwealth Games.
“Even before I come to India I want to hit 2.25m, which is India’s qualifying mark, a few times here so that I am confident when I arrive.” If and when Shankar achieves the mark, don’t be surprised to hear a few Hindi cuss words roll out of his tongue in excitement.