It is difficult to imagine Achinta Sheuli being anything but a power-sport athlete. The 18-year-old is brawny and barrel-chested, with strong shoulders, muscular forearms, and legs — the typical physique of a weightlifter. Watching Sheuli, a national and Commonwealth weightlifting champion, and the rest of the Indian squad training at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala, lifting loaded barbells, can be a humbling experience because of the display of explosive strength from a static position.
Sheuli’s palms are callused from the daily training, one of the professional hazards for a weightlifter. However, he insists there was a time when his fingers had the dexterity to weave intricate zari embroidery work on sarees. As a 12-year-old, around the time he first stepped into the local gymnasium at Duelpur near Howrah in West Bengal, Sheuli was a skilled tailor. The predicament the family found itself in meant everyone had to work, Sheuli says.
His father, who pedaled a cycle-rickshaw for a living, passed away when Sheuli was in Class 8. At about the same time, the small poultry farm at home was attacked by wild foxes. His elder brother, who was a weightlifter, quit the sport and learnt embroidery to earn a living, and Sheuli picked up the skill from his sibling.
“My daily routine was broadly like this: Wake up at 5 am go for a run, come home and stitch, then go to the local gym, after that head to school and after school, train again,” he says. Once back home, he would stitch again, after which he would have dinner, sleep past 10 pm and rise at the crack of dawn.
Sheuli’s life is still hectic but now he has a structured training schedule at the NIS which keeps him on his toes. he is relatively new to the national camp, 18 months and counting. He is among the younger crop of lifters, the other being the prodigious Jeremy Lalrinnunga, whose potential is being talked up.
This year has been fruitful for Sheuli — he became the national champion in the 73 kilogram category in February and followed it up with a gold at the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships last month.
Sports Cadet Achinta Sheuli of Army Sports Institute participated in the #Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships at Apia, Samoa in 73 kg weight category & won Gold Medals in both junior and senior categories, creating new records.#IndianArmy#SagaOfChampions pic.twitter.com/laQgtIEb9O
— ADG PI – INDIAN ARMY (@adgpi) July 16, 2019
The gold at Apia, Samoa, and the one at the nationals, Sheuli says, were a shot in the arm for they not only proved that he was capable of transitioning from the junior to the senior level, but also gave him bragging rights over other competitors in the category and extended his stint at the national camp. Sheuli, according to chief national coach Vijay Sharma, is being seen as a potential gold medalist at the next Commonwealth Games.
“The gold at the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships was my first international medal at the senior level. I know it is not as big a medal as the one at the Asian Championships, but it gives you a lot of confidence. I started training at a small gymnasium in my village, which is half an hour from Howrah. So I am happy I have made it so far. Here at the national camp, there is monitored training, a structured diet chart and physiotherapy. When I started going to the gymnasium, life was very different. I used to train, work and go to school,” Sheuli says.
Back then, every day presented a new challenge, he says. Putting three square meals on the table was difficult as the family was paid once a week by the saree merchant. “When my father was alive, my mother used to be a housewife but after his death she also started embroidery work along with my brother and me.”
Though his brother was training to be a weightlifter, Sheuli’s introduction to the sports came by chance. He was flying kites and one of them fell near the village gymnasium. He remained transfixed on the training regimen the lifters were undergoing and soon went along with his brother to the gym.
Sheuli’s next event is the World Championships which begins on September 18 in Pattaya, Thailand, where the competition would be almost be as tough as the Asian Championships earlier this year — an event in which Sheuli found himself out of depth.
India won 7 medals (4 gold,2 silver,1 bronze) on day 3 of the Commonwealth #Weightlifting C’ships.🇮🇳#AchintaSheuli (2 golds),#GulamNavi & #SadanandaSingh won gold.🥇#ManpreetKaur & #ArockiyaAlish won silver & #SadanandaSingh also took home a bronze.🥈🥉
Many congratulations!👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/AN5U2eBkAf
— SAIMedia (@Media_SAI) July 11, 2019
China’s Zhiyong Shi won the gold with 362 kg while Sheuli finished at 297. He says a right elbow niggle set him back at the Asian Championships and is aware that injury-management is key in his sport.
“At the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships, my target was to lift 310 kilograms but I totalled 305. So I was a little disappointed. When I won the national title in the 73 kilogram category, I had lifted a total of 300 kg. So in comparison, this is an improvement but the competition at the world level is very high in this category. I have to keep on improving and hope and pray I am injury-free.”
Over the past year or so, Sheuli has not had to borrow money from home. The stipend he gets from Khelo India and the TA and DA has helped him become self-sufficient when it comes to his training needs. He says he can still do zari work but admits it would now take much longer for him to finish what he starts. “I haven’t forgotten how to use a needle and thread, but now my life revolves around weightlifting.”