The country’s top ranked wheelchair Badminton player Ammu Mohan has fought many battles on and off the court. She has endured all the challenges and is a staunch believer in hard work which always helps her to progress as a player.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Ammu Mohan gives an insight about her Para badminton career, staying away from family, managing work along with career and aiming for medals at Paralympics.
Q1) When did you start playing Para Badminton as a professional?
I started in the year 2017, I got internationally classified, before that I used to play domestic tournaments but professionally I would say 2017 I started with Para Badminton.
Q2) How challenging was the transition between Tennis to Badminton and what made you change your sport?
If you look at tennis, it is completely different from badminton in terms of shot making and rules. What made me change the sport is my disability as I felt badminton would suit my disability because I got internationally classified in wheelchair Badminton. I was not able to receive good training in tennis compared to badminton as I felt not very motivated playing tennis. I get a lot of support from not only my coaches but also my colleagues who have helped me through the initial stages in practice and also now in improving my game. I've been staying in Lucknow since last year. I also won the gold medal at the nationals, which shows how far my game has improved. My current coach is aware of the wheelchair accessibility and also playing with international caliber players has helped improve my game.
Q3) How was the experience of winning three medals at the Uganda Para Badminton International championship?
I wasn't expecting to win 3 medals and I am so glad to have won 2 golds and 1 silver at that tournament. My colleagues knew about my game and they motivated me. There was a lot of positivity from the coaches as well. My coach had given a justification to SAI beforehand that I will win in Uganda and get a medal. It was a very tough time for me. I was so happy to be getting recognition on social media as well. Olympian Pramod Kumar called me a rising star which was a big moment for me.
Winning a gold medal in International competition is very hard and in a wheelchair category is more difficult. The media also informed me that I was the first woman from the country to get a gold medal in the wheelchair category in Para Badminton. Wheelchair badminton is very fast paced and you have to be very quick. My family, friends and my colleagues at the London Stock Exchange were also very happy for me. It also motivated me to keep working harder and achieve more things.
Q4) With Para Badminton making its debut at the Paralympics last year, do you think the sport has evolved in our country in the last decade?
It definitely has. There has been a lot of growth in Para Badminton. Previously there were very few players but after it was added in the Paralympics there are a lot of players who started taking up the sport. In Odisha more than 500 players had come whereas before there used to be around 100 in all categories. The game is growing with every minute. The states are also supporting the players and doing the best they can. In Para Badminton most of the ranked players are from India in multiple categories. Getting a medal in the wheelchair category used to be difficult and no one ever thought that it could be done but now everything has changed. Coaches help us by giving proper training and breaking barriers. In Lucknow, Gaurav Khanna's academy has wheelchair accessibility where we have all the facilities. We get recognition as well now whereas before it wasn't there.
Q5) What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
One of the main challenges during my initial days was to strengthen my physical and mental condition for training. During that time it was more like a social service as I did not have much hope in my performance. I started playing sports after my father passed away and when I started playing Tennis there were a lot of problems. I could not hit the ball well as I was very weak and my stamina was drained.
People used to make fun of me when they saw me playing and that negativity had an impact on me. I took it as a challenge whenever I was playing in the wheelchair and then worked on my physical fitness through personal coaching. I entered Athletics and in 2014 I started winning gold medals which came as a surprise to many people. That motivated me to stay in sports and was confused to choose between Tennis or Athletics.
In 2015 I played Para Badminton, instantly there was a connection and I wanted to play the game. I tried to contact many coaches and then contacted the governor in 2017 saying that I needed coaching which was not available in Bangalore. He informed me that I needed to get classified. I got classified when I played an event in Japan for the Wheelchair 2 category. From then the training started but still I was not satisfied and being in constant touch with my coaches brought me to Lucknow.
It is also difficult for me to balance office work and Para Badminton as I need the job for financial support. I specifically requested the company for 4-1 evening shift, it has been challenging as we fix the technical/ manual issues of the clients which needs 100 percent involvement. Even when I take leave ,I only take while tournaments are going on. Two sessions of training in the morning and then I come to the office for work which goes till 1. Every athlete needs sufficient rest after training sessions and am unable to attend 3 sessions in a day. My job supports me in open tournaments where I spend my own money, getting a sponsor is also very time consuming. If I have proper rest and am able to do three sessions then there will be a lot of positive changes in my game. I have overcome a lot of negative comments, tears to reach this level and my coaches always get me back with a positive mindset.
I try to be as independent as possible. I used to play with the Indian wheelchair which was 30,000 rupees and still used it at the International level. Then by God’s grace, there was a scheme in the Karnataka government which sanctioned 2 crores for equipment. I met an IAS officer who was into sports and told him about my wheelchair. After continuous follow up which lasted a year, I finally got the RGK wheelchair and at present am the only one from Karnataka in wheelchair category; I am also the country’s top ranked player in the wheelchair category.
Q6) What are your future goals and how would you want to achieve them?
I want to win medals at the Paralympics, Asian Games and World Championships. I also stay away from my family as they are in Bangalore and there are a lot more sacrifices to be made in the future. I am working hard for that and also need support from everyone to reach nearer to my goal.