India’s star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra hasn’t competed this year due to a right elbow injury and the subsequent surgery in May. He’s also remained low-key and away from public glare, working on his rehab in Mumbai. Just a couple of weeks back, he moved to JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sport campus in Bellary, about 300km from Bangalore, to continue his recovery. The 21-year-old athlete from Haryana opens up about the tough phase of recovery, catching up with family and also acing PUBG.
How is your recovery shaping up?
I have started proper training just a couple of days back and feel really good. The doctors had asked me to take complete rest for a couple of months after the surgery and I followed that. I still haven’t started throwing but everything is moving on as planned. But at the moment, I can’t assure you that I’ll be back in a competition on a certain date.
Do you think you’ll be ready in time for the World Championships?
I will be very frank. If I had already qualified for it, I would push for it. But right now, it’s very difficult and I don’t want to strain my elbow again and risk a career-threatening injury. And the time is really short. But we should remain positive and if God performs a miracle, who knows, I might still be able to compete at the Worlds. For now, the focus is getting back in shape.
The injury kept you away from action for a long time. What went on in your mind during this phase?
We athletes have a life that revolves around training. It’s our job and imagine, if you are asked not to come to office tomorrow. You know how it would feel, right? It was a tough period and doubts did creep into my mind. We’re humans. Months of rigorous training and suddenly an injury undoes all the effort. But not for a moment did I break down. I believe that my hard work will bear fruit someday.
What I’ve learnt with experience is that no athlete is spared from the pain of going through an injury. You have to accept it. Staying positive is key. When I was told that I had to go under the knife, I was like, let’s get done with it. I had no fear.
How did you spend your time? Did you visit your family?
After the surgery in May, I stayed back in Mumbai for the recovery. I had to visit the hospital almost every second day. To keep myself occupied, I listened to a lot of music. Punjabi songs and Babu Mann tops my playlist. I also listen to a lot of English music although I don’t understand a single word. If the music is good, I am fine. I like Thunder by Imagine Dragons a lot. I love blasting good music on the Bluetooth speakers through my phone.
I also played a lot of PUBG on my phone. It’s fun because you can talk to your friends while playing with them online. I have a few national campers and some old friends who join me in the game. I am very fond of sports apparel so I used to visit the mall often and get some good shirts or shoes and even have a nice meal with my physiotherapist.
Did you have cheat meals?
No. I maintained my diet and that’s why I am still fit. I kept working on my lower body during the break. I’ve eaten so much European food during my training abroad that my standards have dropped very low. Wahan ya toh meat varna ghas-phus ( You either get meat or green salad). I can eat anything as long as it’s not beef. I miss home food a lot. Churma (a sweet ghee-soaked dish) is an all-time favourite. Ye cake-shake I’ve had abroad are nothing in front of it. You have one and you’re done for the day. I also miss paranthas with the saag my mother prepares.
How was the interaction with your family like during your recovery period?
They kept asking how my arm was. I never really told them how it hurt or if there was any bleeding or swelling. All I told them was that I am doing well and will recover soon. This break also gave me an opportunity to stay in touch with my family. Because in training, you completely forget about everything, even calling your parents at the time. I have a huge family so the phone calls were long.
Are you following what’s happening on the athletics circuit?
Of course. I see that most top throwers haven’t had a good season so far. Not sure why. I see that there are so many competitions our athletes are taking part in and honestly, it feels bad to sit at home and just read about it. I want to be out there. I am also really happy to see Hima and that Indian athletics is getting a lot of attention. But I know she is a very wise girl and wouldn’t get carried away by this recent gold surge. Winning these events are good, but she shouldn’t be satisfied because the ultimate goal is to do well at the Worlds and Olympics. I also want to tell all the people who are praising her now to stand by her if, God forbid, she has a poor outing.
Your close friend Tejaswin Shankar (India’s high jump national record holder) is in India. Are you planning to catch up with him?
He’s visiting me in a week’s time. We stay in touch over phone and there’s a lot to catch up. I hope he’s getting me something from the US.
What does coach Uwe Hohn tell you?
He’s in Poland with the national team. He keeps telling me to relax and focus on rehab. I’ll join the team once I feel better.