Aishwarya Pissay: ‘Important to pay attention to mental health after injury’

After fracturing her wrists in an accident last year, the off-road racer is back with a bang, finishing 47th at the Baja Aragon last month. In an interview, she talks about her race, the mental challenges after injury, and more.

Aishwarya Pissay is currently preparing for the National Championship in Bangalore, the fourth round of the Indian National Rally Championship.

Aishwarya Pissay is currently preparing for the National Championship in Bangalore, the fourth round of the Indian National Rally Championship. | Photo Credit: Paul Noronha

After fracturing her wrists in an accident last year, the off-road racer is back with a bang, finishing 47th at the Baja Aragon last month. In an interview, she talks about her race, the mental challenges after injury, and more.

Aishwarya Pissay has been a trailblazer of sorts, finding ways to thrive in a male-dominated sport through passion, resolve, and hard work. The off-road racer has an indomitable spirit, and now she is back scorching the tracks after fracturing both her wrists in a racing accident last year.

Last month, she raced in the Baja Aragon, the fourth race of the FIM Bajas World Cup, and finished 47th. Overcoming mental obstacles, she says, was important in regaining the confidence and verve to make an impact.

Aishwarya Pissay riding her bike during the Baja Aragon race, the fourth round of the FIM Bajas World Cup, in Spain. Pissay finished 47th (in overall classification) out of 62 riders, registering a combined time of 11 hours, 8min and 52.0 seconds.

Aishwarya Pissay riding her bike during the Baja Aragon race, the fourth round of the FIM Bajas World Cup, in Spain. Pissay finished 47th (in overall classification) out of 62 riders, registering a combined time of 11 hours, 8min and 52.0 seconds. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Aishwarya talks to  Sportstar about her race in Spain, the mental challenges after the injury, the increased participation of women in motorsport, and more.

QBaja Aragon was your first World Cup round this season after the wrist injury. How was the experience of racing after a gap, and did you meet your expectations with your performance?

Yes, Baja Aragon was the first race after my accident last year. It hasn’t been an easy journey. It has been an uphill task, not only because of my physical disability but also because I had to tackle mental blocks that one has to deal with after an injury. I went into the race with the aim of learning more from the terrain, as well as the entire race experience. But I was confident with all the training that I had put in the lead-up to the race. 

I had been spending more time training in Europe with my coach Mika (Metge) in France and Jordi (Grau) in Spain, to prepare for international races. This was my third participation in Baja Aragon and by far my best standing in the overall results. It was my strongest performance in an international race. It was great.

QOff-road racing poses a risk of serious injury. What are some of the challenges – mental and otherwise – in preparing for peak performance? A bad accident or injury may leave a mental scar, if only for a short while. Do you train your mind to not allow it to affect your racing?

Yes. Mental fitness and psychology are a crucial part of my recovery and regular training. Yes, I went through mental blocks and obstacles while coming back from injury, but having my coach Mon by my side to navigate through all these challenges helped me regain my confidence after the accident. But I think it’s important to pay attention to mental health, especially after an accident. I think, as athletes, we do not pay as much attention to the mental aspect but focus only on skill and physical ability.

So yes, mental fitness has played an essential role in me returning as strong as I have.

QRaces must be even more challenging in hot weather, especially now when the climate is palpably warming up. Europe just had a severe heat wave. How do you keep yourself adequately hydrated during races?

For hydration, I follow a protocol given to me by my nutrition team. For the time that I’m driving, [planning] how much water I need to have on a regular day or the products that I add into my water — that’s one way of staying hydrated.  Ultra Human is another technology that I use that helps me track my food as well as my energy levels during training, racing, as well as on my recovery days. [It helps] In understanding my fuelling better, to optimise my nutrition, and to give my 100 percent at my training and race.

QSince your first National Championship win, you have raced in India and abroad. Have you seen the talent pool for women grow in India? What are some of the steps the motorsport community can take to further improve their participation?

The participation of women in motorsports in India has been [increasing], because when I started I was the only girl racing on the grid. But today, I see the participation of at least 15 women at the TVS One Make championship. I think with manufacturers coming forward to support women and bringing the opportunity to participate in an affordable space, is a great start.

Grassroot-level programmes have begun this year with the FIM Minibike series and classes for women even in the rally championship. These are a few ways they have been supporting it. I think the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India is doing its bit to grow women’s motorsports in whatever possible ways it can at the moment.

QYou’ve spoken about self-confidence being an acquired skill rather than an innate trait. It’s helped you bounce back after setbacks. Can you elaborate on the process of acquiring it, maybe by giving examples from your own career?

My career is a perfect example of someone who was an underdog with nothing but dreams and could make it happen. And definitely, I was not somebody who was born with self-confidence, but it was something that I had to work hard on. But I think that’s probably [wisdom] you don’t find very easily, or athletes don’t talk about it so much.

Every race that I went to, every race that I lost, every experience and learning which I had from each one of these races [contributed to my understanding]. After the hard work that I started putting in when I was getting results, I realised that if you work hard, and if you have a goal and focus, anything is achievable. It’s also important to communicate with the senior riders, to be able to understand more about their struggles. Through all of this, one thing I have learnt is that you’re not born with it, but it is something that we can definitely work on and achieve.

QWhat is the next tournament you will participate in, and what are your aims for this season?

I am gearing up for the National Championship in Bangalore, this weekend. It’s the fourth round of the Indian National Rally Championship, and I am looking forward to finishing this season of the Rally Championship in India as well as participating in the Sprint Championship starting in September. I’m also looking forward to spending more months training internationally and participating in a few more international events.

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