Pursuing a passion

“There's a time for everything in life and I know my time will come,” says shooter Rashmee Rathore in a chat with A. Joseph Antony.

Sing to make the work go well, Like the scissor-man — M. Nightingale

A song is never far from Rashmee Rathore's lips, whether she's working out, driving or cooking. Although not overtly vocal, she was ‘on song,' recently at the Dr. Karni Singh range, Tughlakabad, New Delhi. The Hyderabad crack-shot breezed to the women's skeet gold in the National shooting championship.

Not long before, strolling through the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP) range in the picturesque locale of Hyderabad Central University during the 49th National championship, she felled five of eight ‘birds' on her first foray into the trap event.

When a fellow-shooter suggested she try her hand in skeet, Rashmee took up her position at the seventh station, the starting point for beginners, since the ‘pigeon' there is straight.

In a stunning display of spectacular shooting, Rashmee ‘powdered the clay' eight out of 10 times. This prompted her father, Captain Y. S. Rathore, to predict she would bag a medal in the next edition of the country's most challenging competition.

That proved to be no far-fetched forecast. For, she was at Tughlakabad the following year and won a bronze, behind Arti Singh Rao and Saniya Sheikh in the women's skeet competition.

“I've seized every opportunity that has come my way,” said Rashmee. “Even if it meant flying 18 hours for the Santiago World Cup in Chile. I went all alone because other Indian shooters skipped the event. On my first international competition, the 2008 World Cup in Suhl, I was alone,” the ace markswoman recalled.

Rashmee has been pretty low on luck though, missing a quota place for the London Olympics by just two points. “After winning silver at the Commonwealth Shooting championships, I was picked for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Just a month before the Delhi extravaganza began, our event was scratched. Ditto with 2011 National Games in Ranchi, this time the reason cited was far few participants,” said Rashmee.

As an eight-year-old, fed up with a fire-cracker pistol, Rashmee threw a tantrum. Her late grandfather, Lt. Col. R. S. Rathore, gifted her an air gun, which in a way, set off her shooting odyssey. Initially her dad discouraged her from trying out her grandpa's 12 bore rifle, for fear she'd hurt herself from the recoil.

Those were times when thieves broke into houses in Sainikpuri, a Secunderabad suburb, where the family lived. Her dad did a rethink and let his daughter have a go with the big bore at their farm in Emjal. Sure enough, it hit her hard, leaving her arm and shoulder badly bruised. It didn't deter her though.

Armed with a Master's degree in Accounting and Control from The Hague University, Netherlands, Rashmee joined the Standard Chartered Bank as an Investment Service Sales Officer. Hardly three months into her new job and her mind was wandering towards the shooting range, leaving her talking to herself about how she'd take this shot and that.

Sensing shooting had become her first love, her colleague and close friend Humairah Rahaman felt Rashmee should quit her job to pursue her passion. As with every major decision in life, her parents only supported her.

Harsh realities hit her hard soon enough. Ammunition was tough to get as were the gun and clay birds expensive. When Peruvian Juan Giha was in Hyderabad on a short stint to coach Amit Sanghi, the former wanted more shooters to train. A stickler for discipline, the six-time Olympian would punish his wards with a 1 km run, should they miss a ‘bird.'

When Giha's exit left a void, Rashmee's dad stepped in admirably, as he researched books on the sport and studied videos online to fine-tune his daughter's craft. Even when chances of her getting a wildcard for the G. V. Mavlankar tournament in Delhi faded, Rashmee was seen pacing up and down the range right through the duration of the tournament.

Her persistence proved persuasive for the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), which gave her a wildcard to the Nationals, where she clinched the bronze. Following that third-place finish, she was labelled a ‘renowned shot' and enlisted in the ‘core group,' comprising the country's top three shooters in each event.

"Three musts for me are music, good food and a book within reach. When I'm stranded in traffic, I read," says Rashmee.-

Permitted to import weapons and ammunition duty-free, she scoured the landscape for sponsors. Despite setting up a website (www.rashmeerathore.com) expressly for this purpose, no money came, till her parents purchased her a Perazzi MX2000 rifle at considerable cost.

“When the rough edges of a stock fitted in Delhi left my fingers ‘plastered,' I got one attached in Italy, costing 750 euros,” said Rashmee. If costs had her reeling, excruciating pain from a quivering back laid her low by the time she completed the designated 75 rounds.

Thanks to Naqi, her fitness guru in a Hyderabad gym, the pain became a thing of the past. “He'd pile me with thrice the workload he gave the guys, but it worked out well. My endurance improved so much, that I suffered no physical fatigue even after 500-round training sessions with Italian Marcello Dradi,” she said.

Ever the optimist, she's quick to shrug off the negatives and point to the positives. “Thanks to Capt. P. P. Singh Guron's efforts, we were enriched by the expertise of Italian coach Pietro Jenga (currently training the German Olympic team) during the national camp in Patiala last December,” said Rashmee.

Being the lone child, not just for her parents but her paternal aunt and uncle, a lot of love is lavished on her. “My aunt would book air tickets when they were needed in a hurry or she would arrange for foreign currency, so that I never went hungry when I was abroad,” Rashmi reminisced affectionately.

Her demands are not too many though. “Three musts for me are music, good food and a book within reach. When I'm stranded in traffic, I read,” she said, her favourites ranging from fantasy to romance.

“Whenever I set a target, I attain it often but my performance dips when I don't,” said Rashmee, who has been consistently scoring over 60 out of 75. She's aware that she must make a mark in international competition to stand up and get noticed. “There's a time for everything in life and I know my time will come,” she said as she signed off.