Charting his own course

Published : Aug 01, 2009 00:00 IST

Rajesh Choudhary..."My best is still to come."-PICS: MOHAMMED YOUSUF
Rajesh Choudhary..."My best is still to come."-PICS: MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Rajesh Choudhary..."My best is still to come."-PICS: MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Rajesh Choudhary considers his bronze medal at the 2006 Asian Games as his best achievement. “In Doha nobody supported me. I sailed against all odds and still managed a medal,” says the heroic helmsman. By A. Joseph Antony.

A cycling accident ripped the right side of his face barely a week before the 2006 Doha Asian Games. During the selection trials for the quadrennial event, the boom’s reinforced metal hit him on the head. Only Rajesh Choudhary’s will to win enabled him to overcome the pain and, more importantly, the fear of failure.

“My scalp needed several stitches after I lost a lot of blood,” the seasoned seaman recalls. The Laser Radial bronze was his, as it was at the Busan Asian Games four years ago.

“The 2006 Asian Games bronze medal is my best achievement since during that time nobody supported me. That includes the association, club and other sailors I sailed with. I sailed against all odds and still managed a medal,” he says of his Doha feat.

Like a true soldier, the Subedar Major has not let the disappointment of losing the Arjuna Award to Girdhari Lal Yadav recently unduly upset him. “I believe my best is still to come and then hopefully, the nation will take notice,” says the eternal optimist with unflagging zeal.

His conquests have come in waters inland and on the high seas, cutting across classes of boats and community of sea-faring countries. This heroic helmsman’s haul includes half a dozen golds among 10 international medals and 26 National titles in a distinguished 15-year career. Rajesh’s role model is the renowned Brazilian sailor, Robert Scheidt, who has won several world championship titles.

Unlike Yadav, who plays second fiddle as crew in the Enterprise and other classes, Choudhary’s distinction lies in single-hander craft, his forte being the Laser. “Training in the Laser, for instance, is mostly in isolation. The conversation at best is between you and your boat,” says Rajesh of the numerous hours he has spent in practice.

How does he compare with the 17 Arjuna awardees so far in sailing, most of whom are from the Navy or are their kin? None of them is a two-time Asian Games medallist. Nor has any of them had his kind of success in an Olympic class, as widespread as the Laser fleet, believed to be 1,70,000 strong and sailed in 122 nations!

Incidentally he hails from a village called Raghunandanpur in land-locked Bihar, where his baptism in ways of the water was in the river Ganges. The cradle for his chosen calling was the Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad. Fine-tuning his craft came later at the Army Yachting Node (AYN), Mumbai.

“I was initiated into sailing by Brig. K. S. Saini, after which Commander R. Mahesh coached me over the years. Later Lt. Col. Gautam Dutta taught me some of the sport’s nuances. Basically they have been there to guide me,” says Rajesh in grateful acknowledgement.

“To have claimed medals in two consecutive Asian Games and preparing for the next demonstrates not only his dominance in the field, but also the dedication and fitness he has shown in a sport that is physically so demanding,” says Commander Mahesh of Rajesh.

Being Rajesh’s forerunner as Laser champion for several years, international achiever and class coach Mahesh, who mentored and watched him closely, believes there’s none to match Choudhary’s accomplishments, or more deserving for the statuette. “The Arjuna Award for Rajesh is long overdue,” he says.

Rajesh is more than married to the sport. “Marital bliss apart, my widowed mother would only be glad to have someone look after her in her old age, back home in Bihar,” says the 36-year-old, who’s still single. His attachment/posting to the AYN necessitates long hours of training, not just in the sea off Mumbai, but in cycling and physical workouts.

“Typically, my day begins at 3 a.m. and ends at about 10 at night,” says Rajesh of his daily routine.

If respect accorded to sportspersons and their achievements is any yardstick, Rajesh has hardly got his due, barring the Visisht Seva Medal (VSM) — one of the high citations for the armed forces — in 2005. Non-performers belittle his bronze medal at the Doha Asian Games, ignorant of the fact that he lost the silver only in a tie-break.

Without even a coach at the AYN, Rajesh is expected to win against sailors from Japan and China, who are on training programmes funded fully from one Olympics to the next. Contrast this with the uncertainty that prevails till the time of his boarding a flight to an overseas competition!

But Rajesh soldiers on regardless, charting his own physical training regimen, responding to each part of his body or mind that cries for attention.

How does he motivate himself in a sport that’s seen him rule the water for 15 years?

“I’m driven by determination and the fact that I am on my own without any support. I understand that I am alone and have to watch for myself. My mantra is: ‘determination and hard work always pay off.’”

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