May 15, 2017- A call that would change my life
I am returning home in the car after an intense workout session at a gym in New Delhi and my phone rings. I take a look and it’s an unknown number starting with +1 so I don’t answer. The phone rings again and I pick up. ‘Hello, this is Erik,’ the caller says. I was like, ‘Who Erik?’ After a moment I realise I am talking to Olympic silver medallist high jumper Erik Kynard Jr from US. I cannot believe it’s the same Erik who won silver at 2012 London, and whose videos I watch .
He is a former Kansas State University star and tells me my application has been accepted and that they want me to join their University. Two dozen K-State athletes who donned the Royal Purple of the Wildcats, have gone to the Olympics and have won 8 medals over the years.
This has to be the most important call I have ever received in my whole life. I am so excited that I am going to get off the car and walk home. I need time for this to sink in.
August 10, 2017-Flying high, literally
The big day has finally arrived. I am about to board the flight to the US. My relatives from Banaras and Bangalore are at the airport. I am overwhelmed by a sea of emotions and I wouldn’t mind a drink. And that’s exactly what I plan to do when I board the flight. I had told myself already that I am going to order champagne on the aeroplane. ‘Apka beta bada ho gaya hai maa!’ I told my mother. She probably thinks I am kidding. I complete my check-in and rest while trying to keep the nervous excitement under check. On the flight, the steward is approaching me and I am a little nervous to ask for my champagne. What if they deny me because I am underage? Or worse rebuke me for asking for a drink. I muster the courage and ask for it. The steward asked me how old I was? I was certain she would say no the moment I say 18. But to my surprise, she got me the sparkling drink in a fancy glass. I was expecting to get a whole bottle to myself but something’s better than nothing. I take my first sip and honestly it tastes like nothing I expected. It’s quite bitter. But it’s a long flight and I have enough time to acquire a taste for champagne.
November 15, 2017-Mom to the rescue
The University campus is multicultural and I have made friends from several countries. We hang out whenever possible and a lot of them have invited me over for meals. Today’s my turn. They have been asking me to prepare an Indian meal for a long time now and I would have been more than happy to do it. However, there’s a glitch, I don’t know how to cook. I have been talking to my mom and she’s explained all the recipes to me. I am going to use the spices my mom sent me from India. So there’ll be some paneer, chana masala and rice for dinner. The food’s done, of course with constant supervision by mom over the phone, and the table’s set. I must admit, I’ve done a decent job. My friends seem content and lot of them asked for extra servings. Chef Tejaswin has arrived!
January 20, 2018-A fishy affair
I have just returned to Kansas after a 10-day visit at my aunt’s who lives in California. If there’s one thing I have missed here the most, it is good vegetarian food. I was treated like a prince by my aunt. But at the campus, there aren’t many options for a vegetarian like me. My blood reports from a routine test arrived and the iron and zinc levels are down. The dietician says I need to eat beef. Heck, no ! I’m fairly religious and a vegetarian and that scandalised me. I told her, beef was out of the question so I was asked to try chicken or fish. I called up Neeraj Chopra the other day and told him the situation. He convinced me to try some fish. I have arrived for lunch and there’s some catfish on the table. It doesn’t look very appealing and smells awful. My friends tell me if I cut it into small pieces and mix it with rice, I wouldn’t feel a thing. I was to realise soon that they weren’t so right. I almost threw up. The first few bites of rice and fish, I just swallowed and somehow managed to finish my meal. ‘Karam hi dharam hai’, Neeraj had told me.
January 21, 2018- ‘You look like a snowman’
Despite growing up in Delhi, where the winters are harsh, I wasn’t prepared for US. I step out of my flat to drive down to the university and I feel something fall on my shoulder. It was snow. I had never seen snowfall. It looks beautiful. I rush back to my flat and scamper to find all the winter clothes mum packed. I have seven layers of clothing on me right now, I think I can face the cold now. I arrive at college and notice everyone’s still in shorts and tees. Why is everyone staring at me? The moment I enter the class everyone burst into laughter. The professor jokes: ‘Come on TJ it’s not cold. Why are you dressed like a snowman?’ I don’t know how to react. A cheeky smile would do for now I guess.
January 26, 2018- Two better than one
Coach Cliff Rovelto, who is head coach here since 1992 and went to Rio 2016 as USA assistant coach, has revamped my training methodology completely. We have worked on a lot on core strength training. I could feel that I am running faster and feeling more thrust in my jumps but that wasn’t translating into higher jumps.
I had spoken to him and he asked me to ditch my single-handed technique and learn the two-hand technique where both hands drop before I take off. It’s been a week since I’ve adopted the new technique and it’s time to put it to the test. I am at the Razorback Indoor Invitational event and I make my first jump. I went back to my old technique. Coach walks up to me and asks me to not worry about the result. ‘Even if you fail, you’ll learn something’. The bar is set at 2.19m and I drop both my hands and leap, I fly over the bar.
April 11, 2018- The CWG disappointment
What an eventful day it has been in Australia. With adrenaline still rushing through my veins, I’m sure I won’t be able to sleep tonight. I am feeling really down. I am disappointed at not being able to put up a good show at the CWG jump finals at the Gold Coast. I had come to the event with a sore neck but I was still confident of finding my rhythm. But today I felt a niggle in my back. That aside, I have to admit I crumbled under pressure. Now I realise if I had kept my emotions under check I could have grabbed a podium spot. I worked all year long for this day but I blew it away when it mattered the most. I will just sit down and contemplate for now. I will learn from the mistakes I’ve committed today.
June 9, 2018- Freshman triumph
After the CWG disappointment, there’s a lot of pressure on me to prove myself at the NCAA championship. But I won’t fall for the same trap again. I have this habit of walking to my window every morning and bowing down to the sun. It’s my hard luck today that the sun’s nowhere to be seen and it is raining as well. The weather was chilly or else I could have made a better jump but to be fair the conditions were the same for all the competitors. This time around I told myself that I wouldn’t take any pressure. I tread cautiously, crossing 2.08, 2.13, 2.18 and 2.21m in my first attempts. It was a tiebreaker at 2.24m and at my final attempt my back brushed the bar. The moment I landed on the mat I looked up to see if the bar was still there. I had done it. It was such a huge moment and I tore my bib off in excitement and somehow caught it too. To come here to a new country and face a lot of trials and finally win the coveted title for my university is no mean feat.
July 24, 2018-When my popularity saved me
I almost got my first traffic violation ticket today. I was driving to the university and took a left turn thinking it was free. Before I realised that I jumped a light, a cop stopped me. He asked me to roll down my window and hand over my driving licence. He took an unusually long time staring at my licence. He took a good look at me and asked: ‘Are you the same Tejaswin who just won the NCAA title?’ I nodded my head. I saw a smile appear on his face as he told me how he replayed the clip where I tear and catch my bib after winning the championship. He gave me a warning and said he’s letting me go because Champion hone ka kuch toh fayda hona chahiye’
August 27, 2018- Following the Asian Games
After pulling out of the Asian Games due to a strained neck, I had decided that I would not watch the event. But yesterday I changed my mind and set my alarm to 4 am to wake up and follow the high jump finals. It wasn’t telecast here so I followed online updates. And when the final results came and I realised the bronze went for 2.24m. I felt miserable. I could have easily won a medal for my country today but then not taking part was a wise move. If I had let emotions get the better of me, I would have risked my career. But I am still very young and I will get many more opportunities to bag an international medal. I’ll make it count then.
November 10, 2018-On top of the World
Ever since my arrival in Kansas, not once have I felt any sort of discrimination. Everyone has welcomed me with arms wide open. I received my ring for winning the title before today’s Sunflower Showdown (series of athletic contests between Kansas State University and the University of Kansas). I was greeted with a loud cheer and I had tears in my eyes when chants of TJ, TJ went around the stadium. It was not about winning the title, it’s about the love that I have received here. I took my cap off in respect for the folks of Kansas. Tejaswin has become TJ.