From chasing explosive action as a talented long jumper, sprinter and hurdler, she now pursues shooting, a sport that entails little movement and calls for sharp focus and deep concentration. Yet, after years of studying engineering, finding a job, writing a couple of books, setting up a publishing house and getting married, Nita Samantaray is happy that she has rediscovered her passion for sport.
Her moment of epiphany came when she was in Chennai and watching the telecast of PV Sindhu in the 2016 Olympic Games badminton final. Nita knew she had to get back to sport. Athletics seemed too tough to return to and shooting seemed a viable option. A visit to an academy in Anna Nagar was to usher in the change, however, she was told she would be better with a pistol than with a rifle.
Her marriage with Himanil Desai, who she had met during an internship, meant she had to move to Vadodara. While finding a job was not too difficult, she scouted around to be able to shoot late evenings each day. Coach Ravi Patel set her a test before taking her under his wings and she now spends two hours honing her skills there, often shooting scores of 370-plus at training.
Last month in Mumbai, shooting with a borrowed pistol, the 25-year-old emerged Gujarat’s second-best woman competitor in the air pistol event. Nita scored 348 points – not a score that will make the national selectors jump up and take notice – but that told her she had made rapid progress and in the right direction.
Come to think of it, it was some nine years ago, around the time she registered for her XI standard in school, she was watching Abhinav Bindra on TV. The 10m air rifle shooter was becoming India’s first individual Olympic gold medallist. Coupled with images of Anjali Bhagwat that were etched on her mind, Bindra’s Olympic conquest stayed on her mind.
Yet, even if her parents Prasanti and Dilip Samantaray were supportive of her interest in sport, there was pressure from relatives and education took priority over athletics. Engineering studies in Pattanaik University followed by post-graduation from the Manipal Institute of Technology kept sport buried in the background.
The brown-eyed lass tried her hand at tennis but was not motivated to pursue it as actively as she had done track and field sport in Bhubaneswar. “I missed sport a hell of a lot, having trained with a wonderful bunch of girls. From my school days, sport has meant a lot to me but I had to put that on the backburner to secure my engineering degree,” she says. “I remember coach Akshay Kumar Sahu sir saying that I would be a good athlete when I held the State long jump record.
“The Olympic Games was not even a dream,” she recalls the years spent in academic pursuit and employment. Without finding a job that would let her play sport, it seemed that she would be divorced from sport for the rest of her life, remaining another one of those Indians whose sporting acumen was sacrificed at the altar of regular pursuits.
Yet, Nita remains so full of positivity that you do not hear her crib about having to lengthen her normal day to be able to shoot. Fitness training and skill training sandwich her domestic chores, job and publishing. Of course, her husband Himanil supports her passion, even standing in for her in the kitchen when she gets delayed in the shooting range.
Last week, she watched a broadcast featuring one of her friends from schooldays – Olympian 200m sprinter Srabani Nanda run for India in the Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar – and it reinforced her own dreams of the Olympic Games. “Srabani and I used to train and compete against one another. We would also hang out with Mayuri Mishra and Subashmita Rath.”
Indeed, the 2020 Olympics are on her mind and she will give it all it takes to get there, embodying the #LiveToPlay spirit. With a pistol of her own that her father is planning to gift her against all odds, the 5’4” powerhouse hopes to make it there. Those who know her admire her for already undertaking a memorable journey, one that has restored her world of sport.