From battling fears of lower-body paralysis in his teens to making it to the Indian team for the Commonwealth Games, it’s been quite a journey for India’s doubles player B Sumeeth Reddy.
Many summers ago, Sumeeth, then a budding men’s singles player, sat on his bed, contemplating his life after being diagnosed with a spinal bone degeneration problem that left him bedridden for three weeks.
Doctors had asked him to quit badminton but all that he could think of were ways to get back on the court.
Cut to 2022, Sumeeth has earned a place in India’s Commonwealth Games after topping the selection trials in mixed doubles with the experienced Ashwini Ponnappa. He did so on his own, doing physiotherapy as part of his rehabilitation programme.
“It was 2010-2011, I was a top 5 India player in men’s singles. One day there was discomfort in my back and it turned out that there were air bubble gaps in the bones of my spinal cord. I was told to quit sports,” Sumeeth told PTI during an interview.
“I consulted around 10 doctors but none could give me a solution. I was bedridden for around 20 days. Even to go to the washroom, I had to take support and there were fears of lower body paralysis but I was not ready to quit.
“After a few weeks, I started to try out things. Each day I tried a new way. I tried ayurvedic and everything possible and slowly figured out a way.
“Ultimately rehab, exercise and following a strict regime helped. I had to give up singles but after 3-4 years, I felt I was getting better.” Sumeeth has never stopped fighting against adversity ever since. He fought online hate, lack of support from foundations and sponsors, and had to arrange funds by breaking his investments to fuel his badminton dream.
“I am a badminton addict, nothing comes before it. I have never been supported by any NGO or foundation, I don’t have any equipment sponsor since 2018. I haven’t got any salary since last year from my employer,” said Sumeeth, who is employed with the Income Tax department in Telangana.
Asked why he is not getting his remuneration, Sumeeth said he has submitted all the documents asked of him before taking leaves for participating in tournaments, but still confusion prevails.
“I have been buying my equipment, and funding my foreign trips since 2019. It was only after I won the selection trials, BAI sent us to Malaysia and Indonesia. I’m not complaining. I am a mad guy. Nothing can stop me from playing the sport.” After trying twice in Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018, Sumeeth proved to be third time lucky as he and Ashwini Ponnappa emerged as the best-mixed doubles pair at the trials, and earned a ticket to the Birmingham Games.
After winning the finals at the trials, an emotional Sumeeth dropped to his knee with his hands covering the face, before falling flat on the floor.
“I narrowly missed out twice in 2014 and 2018. It was always a dream, but I couldnt make it. 10-11 years is a long time in anyone’s career. So it was an emotional moment. If not in men’s doubles, at least in mixed doubles I could qualify for the event.” While Sumeeth played with Manu Attri as India’s men’s doubles pair in the last decade and also qualified for the Rio Olympics in 2016, it was only recently that he seriously took up mixed doubles, even though he has paired up with many in the last decade.
“I played with Ashwini in 2017. We had some commendable wins too but it was just six events. After that Tan coach (Tan Kim Her) wanted Ashwini to play with Satwik (Satwiksairaj Rankireddy) and it was a successful pairing for the Indian contingent at the 2018 CWG.
“I played with many players but we could never practice together. So it was in September last year that I and Ashwini decided that we will start playing together and I am focussing on mixed doubles now.
“With the experience that we both have, I believe we can do well for the country. We started at Hylo Open. It takes time to coordinate but with each match, we are getting better.” Sumeeth said he can’t wait for the showpiece in Birmingham to begin.
“We had a decent time training together. We are just waiting for the tournament to start to show off what we have, to perform for the country.
“All the CWG countries are improving and it would be a tough tournament. Ultimately it will come down to that day, ranking won’t matter, maybe at best just 5 to 10 percent, what will matter is who can hold the nerves,” he signed off.