Broken spirits tend to bond families, but Virdhawal Khade and Sanyogita Ghorpade had a hearty laugh when exchanging notes on the Do’s and Dont’s of broken knees. The first cousins from Kolhapur (swimmer Virdhawal’s father and shuttler Sanyogita’s mother are siblings), who learnt their ABCs just two years apart as kids, talked at length over their ACL knee situations in the last two years – after both had undergone surgeries, to start a new chapter in their individual careers.
“The next year is important and we keep motivating each other,” says Sanyogita, who made the Women’s Doubles finals at the Senior Badminton Nationals in her first meet since her comeback – from an Achilles rupture. “But Vir has told me that it’ll be brilliant for the family if we can both make it to the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2018. It’s a long road ahead but we want to try,” says the 24-year-old who had suffered a knee tear in early 2015, while Khade, 26, got himself operated for an ACL pull last month.
“I should be back in the pool in 6 weeks’ time. There is an inner craving for an Asian Games gold which I couldn’t win – I had just a bronze. So, I want to start training again, put together a programme, and achieve what is incomplete now,” says the swimmer, more determined than before. The knee snap— happened while playing football—isn’t even the worst of his nightmares, having missed two Olympics despite making the provisional grade, owing to the swimming federation’s whimsical policies.
“It was terrible, the Olympics happens just once in four years, and I was at my peak when told two months before London that I would not be sent to the Games. Same at Rio, though I’d kept myself in shape and gone to the 2015 Worlds,” he recalls. “But now I am financially stable after having worked at a regular job since 2012. I don’t have to wait at Bangalore endlessly for funds, neither do I have to ask my father to send me money. Now I’ll plan my own training – nutrition, supplements and coach,” he adds.
Bitterness has made way for a bold resolve where Khade knows he can control his destiny, he’s missed out on a good four years. He took up the government job, and – actually went to office. “I started in Mumbai in equipment removal at the Collector’s Office, then did a spot at slum redevelopment, and am currently posted in Malvan in land revenue where I interact with farmers of Sindhudurg district,” says the 2010 Asiad bronze meddalist (50 ‘fly).
He would continue swimming at Khar Gymkhana, and work hard in the gym for the streamlined frame, but it was his job that proved the eye-opener. “20 years I’d known only swimming, now I got to see how government departments work. It’s a misunderstanding that nothing happens in government offices, I worked a lot!” he laughs.
Still, Rio had been tough. He refused to watch swimming events as they made him sad about how life had turned out, though he kept hearing the results. There’s inspiration now from how Sanyogita Ghorpade is attempting to get her career on track too. A promising doubles shuttler – she’s 5’8” and skilled at converting openings both at net and from back – she was at the Gopichand Academy for four years but returned after the injuries. “I needed my family around because it was tough for me. Now I want to first get strong in Pune and then build a good partnership. I believe I’m as good as India’s top doubles players, and I want to aim high and work hard,” she says.
In Pune, she trains at former Olympian Nikhil Kanetkar’s Academy at Balewadi, and the no-nonsense coach is helping out with bespoke training to aid her game. “I’m happy she made the Nationals finals playing with a singles junior. We will work on her game and in the future probably look for training abroad,” he says.
Virdhawal has helped her through the rough patch – when she was injured and psychologically broken after returning home. Sanyogita is happy she’s at Balewadi. It was here in 2008 – some 50 feet away from her centre now – that Khade had picked a bunch of medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games, his first splash. “Swimming ends in photo finishes, but Vir was winning at least a hand’s length ahead of silver medallists. The whole family was watching and proud. I really want to be good enough to qualify for CWG and Asiad with him,” she ends.