For nearly a year after winning the 10m air rifle bronze medal at the London Olympic Games 2012, Gagan Narang had to stay away from something that he so loves. A neck injury made his shoulders and trigger finger go numb. And, he could not pick up his rifle, load pellets, aim at the target and shoot.
“There were days I tried to train, picked up my rifle but couldn't find my position. It took a long time for me to recuperate. It was essentially a wait-and-watch situation. There was hope, despair and hope again. But yes, it was very difficult to keep one's motivation going with an injury like this because there is no set timeline for healing,” he recalls.
“However during the period I started shooting prone on a fairly regular basis. My first prone medal came at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I always have the appetite for big wins. I love to comeback with a medal from every competition. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it does not. But the aim is to be consistent,” he tells Zevenworld, reliving his journey.
Excerpts from an interview with the ace marksman:
How can ordinary citizens, caught up in the humdrum of daily life, take up sports and make India a more sporting nation? What will you say to inspire them to get up and play sport?
Sport renders positivity. Not everyone has the time or the will to play active sports. But it is very important to live a good life. And to live a good life one needs to have a healthy body. A healthy body is one that is cared for. Our bodies are temples. We do not need to look beyond to find God. It is important to make it a happy space for our souls to reside. As India gets young, there should be wellness education- with or without sports. I would always tell a youngster sports is the best way to build one's character. Nothing tests you as much as sports. If you have won in sports, winning in the boardroom may actually be a lot easier.
Tell us a bit about your friendship and competitive rivalry with Abhinav Bindra.
Abhinav started shooting a couple of years before me. Since we shoot the same event, which is the 10m Air Rifle, our efforts are often compared. But unlike cricket, football, shooting is an individual sport. You could never compare Leander Paes to Mahesh Bhupathi. Abhinav and I have often exchanged notes during and outside competitions. He is very sporting and as passionate to take the sport to the grassroots as I am.
Do you have role models from other walks of life that you idolise? If, so who are they? How does each of them inspire you?
I like Muhammad Ali. "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" is one of my most favourite lines. Besides Ali, I try and take inspiration from little things in life. Sometimes seeing someone around me dealing with adversities is inspiring enough. There are so many role models in and around my life who inspire me.
What inspired you to take to shooting?
While most people in my generation took to cricket, I was never much into physical sports. I needed a sport that could help me focus. Shooting was one such sport that came as an option in those early days. I was doing very well in competitive shooting right from the beginning so my parents thought that I had a future in the sport and encouraged me to take it up as a career. But I love sports like badminton, cricket. I do play them as often as I get time. But nothing quite compensates my love for shooting.
You spoke of working at the grass-root level to make shooting more attractive and affordable for the common person. How do you realise that goal?
Gun for Glory, a not-for-profit initiative, was set up in 2011 with the idea of taking the sport of shooting to the masses. It is an effort to make guns and pellets as well as coaching accessible to newer shooters. At the same time, it also gives people a feel of a competition weapon. If you do not hold a cricket bat or a racquet, you will not know the fun of playing with it. So, in order to reach out, we set up the first centre in Pune in 2011. Today there are a few more centres across the country. The Academy gives GFG centres training modules, trainers and knowledge. The money raised is ploughed back in the system as we try to subsidise guns and ammunition. We would subsidise further if we are able to get CSR funding and sponsors. There is a gunsmith at the academy. So, one no longer has to travel out for repair and maintenance of rifles and pistols. That is a huge cost-saving. Some kids who have trained here have won in nationally and also over 90 international Medals.
Give us an example of a common person being inspired to take to shooting a bit more seriously because of the Gun for Glory Academy.
Last month, I met Devesh Nandwani, a 13-year-old, when I was in Jabalpur. He told me that I was his inspiration. His parents placed him in the GFG Academy. He is so inspired by my efforts that he did not stop shooting even when he lost his mother to cancer. In fact, he was back at the shooting range a day after his mother died! I just hope it pays for him all the way. The boy is talented but needs to build consistency to become extraordinary.
How does it feel to be a role model for other sportspersons?
“With great power comes great responsibility,” says Spiderman. I often feel the weight of those expectations. There are parents who come to me with their kids, asking me to help become Olympic champions. I am always eager to help but becoming an Olympic medal winner is an individual effort. There is no template as such. One needs to do one's basics right and then improvise at the right time. Whenever someone asks me, comes to me for advice, I tell him/her that no one should follow another. One should chart one's own course with one’s own individuality.