Sport is a tool for self-improvement says luger Shiva Keshavan

A broken foot all but marred Shiva Keshavan’s competitive debut in 1997. And now, two decades later, he won his sixth medal at the Asian Luge Championships in Nagano, Japan. The silver that he picked up in the last week of 2015 completed a collection of two gold, silver and bronze medals each over the past 11 years. And this in a sport in which India has virtually no training facility!

PETER PARKS / AFP

Shiva’s remarkable journey started on the Himalayan slopes. “From wooden sleds and skis with steel lamination; from growing up in a village to seeing so many places in the world, assimilating different cultures, meeting countless people, sport has brought about my evolution,” he says, settling down for a conversation with Zevenworld.com at his in-laws’ home in Vasant Kunj, Delhi.

“If I had given up because I broke my foot during the first practice run ahead of my maiden race in 1997, I would’ve never opened the door. Had I not delayed the X-ray until the qualification was sealed and race run, I would’ve been a very different person. Sport opened up the world to me,” he says, his calm countenance belying the fact that he packs explosive power that make him the fastest Indian on ice with speeds around 130km.

“I was brought up in a village, Vashisht, 3km north of Manali. I spent my childhood in what was a tourist destination but only for a part of the year. For five months, we would be snowed in with supplies stocked in from earlier. There was no technology and there was a joy in being able to live the outdoor life. The games we played in childhood become my sport later,” he says.

There are two videos that have trained the spotlight on him. The first shows him training on the highway between Leh and Manali, sliding under trucks and slipping through narrow gaps between cars parked by the roadside. And the other shows how he kept his concentration in recovering from a crash to get back on his sled during a practice run in the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

RAVEENDRAN / AFP

“Crashes happen often in our sport,” he says. “When you crash, the instinct is to save yourself and let the luge go. But I was facing it from a different perspective. The qualification series was on and I could not give up. I would have been disqualified from my next practice run if I had let go. I just had to back my instincts developed over years in holding on to the luge quickly get back.”

It was not the only time that the words ‘Never Give In’, the motto of his alma mater, Lawrence School, Sanawar, surfaced in his life. At a time when most people would have given up because of apathy to his sport, his achievements and his passion, Shiva’s motivation remains high in the run up to the sixth Winter Olympic Games since debuting in Nagano as a 16-year-old.

“You can’t be very logical with something that is your passion. There has to be a little bit of madness about it,” he jokes. “On a more serious note, I believe I can keep doing better. If I can shave off one-tenth of a second from my time of last year, I know I will keep evolving as an athlete, as a person. I am on that search to do a little bit more. I keep defining my short terms goals and each time I achieve them, I find a new target to pursue in my quest for excellence.”

MICHAEL KAPPELER / AFP

The 34-year-old has dedicated more than half his life to competing for India – famously giving up the chance to take up Italian citizenship in 2002 – and is looking to pass the baton on to a worthy younger athlete. But despite his own efforts to train dozens of young luge athletes six years ago, their route to the higher reaches of the sport remain blocked for a variety of reasons.

“I always encourage people to try their hand at any sport that is in their environment. Start somewhere. I started skating, skiing and sledging on the icy slopes. The experience, the joy from those days stuck with me. There are more facilities, more information now. People must follow their passion, act on it and not just keep it in the mind,” he says. “Sport is a tool for self-improvement.”

“I definitely can offer a little bit of advice for sure. Don’t hesitate to contact somebody like me,” he says, an eagerness lighting up his eyes at the thought of helping someone become India’s next big luger. The trail-blazer, who did not have a role model at hand to could seek inspiration from, promises that he will be around to guide, inspire and encourage anyone who comes by.

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