Hailing from Meerut, national level long jumper Shivani Soam is a state record holder at the age of 20. She has overcome innumerable odds to win several national medals and is also the Delhi state record holder for long jump. In this exclusive interview, she speaks about her journey so far, notable achievements in her career, overcoming challenges, qualifying for Asian Games and 2024 Olympics, future goals and more!
Shivani is currently represented by ENGN, an athlete representation company that exclusively works with Indian sportswomen. The company focuses exclusively on India’s female athletes. Besides financial support via investments and sponsorships, ENGN also provides infrastructural support with nutrition, training, mental health coaches and any other need the athlete may require to improve her performance.
Q 1) When were you first introduced to Long Jump and what motivated you to pursue it professionally?
I was originally a sprinter, so I used to participate in 100m and 200m sprints. When I got admitted into DU there were inter college events coming up where I was going to participate in the 100 metres. While practising for it, there was long jump training happening at the same time. I just did a jump towards the end to try it and I managed to get close to the long jumpers who were all professionals.
The long jump coach watched me and asked me to jump again. My 2nd and 3rd jump was equal to the others. So the coach asked me to participate in the long jump along with the 100m sprint. I ended up winning the silver medal in that event despite not having good technique. The coach advised me to concentrate on long jump and I’ve been doing long jump since then.
Q 2) How proud are you to be the current Delhi state record holder for Long Jump? What are some other notable achievements in your career?
Before breaking the Delhi state record, my performances weren’t that good for a while. In the Junior national level 5.7 was the qualifying and my jumps were around 5.57-5.6. Before the competition the coach said that I have to get a good jump in but I was under a lot of pressure and wasn’t confident. I used to live with my aunt back then who said that if I don’t get selected now then we will have to force you to quit which added extra pressure on me.
My coach talked to me and told me to concentrate on the jump and not think about the aftermath. My first two jumps were around 5.5, the 3rd one was around 5.6 and I was only thinking about what will happen if I don’t get it right. The coach told me to be not be stressed and put everything into the next jump and not think about anything else. My 4th jump was 5.73 which I couldn’t believe. I went to my coach who couldn’t believe it and when I told my aunt she refused to believe me but then I showed her the video and the certificate.
Q 3) What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in your career? How did you overcome them?
I started when I was in 12th standard where I didn’t have a stadium to practise in and I used to practise on the farms in my village. My cousin used to go there to train for running as he was preparing for the army. I told my father and uncle that I even want to go but they told me to concentrate on my 12th standard studies.
In the school games I won gold medals in the 100m and 200m sprint after which I got selected for the district level. When I told this at home my mother was still hesitant to let me practise because in my village girls never played or practised any sport. I managed to convince my mother, so I was the first girl in my village to practise any sport.
All my relatives started objecting because I was the only girl amongst all boys who trained there. My mother asked me to stop because everyone started having a problem with it but I asked her to believe in me. I assured her that people would stop complaining once I achieve something. Because of all the complaints I started to practise early in the morning at 4 A.M. The lockdown happened when I was in Delhi so my mother asked me to come back home and I couldn’t practise there. My father is a labourer and my mother is a housewife so we weren’t that strong financially.
I shifted to my grandparents’ place where I started training again with my other cousin before anyone woke up because even they wouldn’t allow me to practise. I started making videos on YouTube and Instagram just for fun. When I reached 1 lakh followers, I messaged Deepika ma’am from ENGN to collaborate with me. She called me and told me about her company ENGN that supports athletes. She has supported me since then and everything has been going great. I am getting everything I need, from diet to equipment thanks to ENGN.
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Q 4) Despite your humble background, you have achieved a lot in your short career. What is your message to all the girls out there who wish to pursue a career in sports?
My message to the young girls out there is to believe in yourself. There will always be challenges but persistence is key. My family wanted me to get married but I didn’t want to. My relatives began putting pressure on me because in our village, girls get married at the age of 20. I asked my mother to not force me and give me a few years to pursue my dreams with the condition that if I manage to achieve something significant, they will let me pursue a career in sports.
Q 5) Are you optimistic about qualifying for the upcoming Asian Games and 2024 Olympics?
My goal is to win a medal at the 2024 Olympics. I’m currently preparing for the Asian Games, the qualification is 6.45 and at this moment I’m reaching 6.10. My coaches are also working hard to ensure I’m in the right condition to perform at my best. I always want to be associated with sports which is why I’m currently studying BPEd (Bachelor of Physical Education) and MPEd (Master of Physical Education) so that I can remain in the field even after I stop being an athlete. I want to start an academy and train kids.
Q 6) What are your long term goals for the future? How are you working towards achieving them?
My target is to secure an Olympic medal and I’m completely focused on it. Earlier I was training in Delhi but it wasn’t up to the mark which is why ENGN has called me to Bangalore where they have top quality coaches who are improving my game. I’m gaining confidence because my training is going well so I’m optimistic about my chances.