The build-up to the Commonwealth Games wasn’t ideal for Shushila Devi Likmabam. A knee injury during a training session forced the Indian judoka to miss out on the team’s only exposure trip to Spain in June, and just when she was slowly getting back into the groove for the big-ticket event, Shushila sustained another injury - barely a week before flying out to Birmingham.
There were stitches on her big toe, but Shushila made sure that it did not affect her performance at the Commonwealth Games. Buoying with confidence, she stormed into the 48kg final, chasing her dream of winning her second Commonwealth Games medal after a span of eight years.
But during the semifinal bout, her stitches came off, making things difficult for the 27-year-old judoka. The coaches and the support staff were worried whether it would be wise to allow her to participate in the final, but Shushila wasn’t willing to relent. She took on her opponent South African Michaela Whitebooi in the summit clash before narrowly missing out on a gold.
“The support I got was phenomenal. People wanted to see me on the podium and that’s what motivated me. I performed to the best of my abilities, but before the final I was feeling a bit low mentally kyunki mera stitch fat gaya tha…” Shushila told Sportstar on the sidelines of an event organised by Candyman Fantastik Chocobar XL.
Hailing from Heingang, East Imphal, Shushila fell in love with judo quite early in life. Her uncle Dinik Singh is an international player-turned-coach and it was Dinik who taught the basics of the sport to Shushila’s elder brother Shilakshi Singh, who is now employed with the Border Security Force.
“My brother was more into martial arts, so as a child, I would accompany him for martial arts sessions. That’s how it started, and hailing from a family of farmers, it was not easy to think of pursuing sport as a career, but my mother told me that if I am serious, then I should decide whether I want to continue with judo,” she said.
That’s how, a young Shushila was enrolled in the judo classes at the Sports Authority of India centre in Imphal.
“Both of us started training at the SAI centre in Imphal under the watchful eyes of our coaches Savitri madam and Deven sir. I was at the SAI from 2002 to 2006,” she said.
Those were days of struggle, but eventually her hard work paid off as Shushila was soon called up at the National Centre of Excellence in Patiala. “I have been training under Jiwan Sharma sir since 2009. Since the beginning, main kaafi laparwah thi, but sir ensured that I never lost the plot. Whatever little I have been able to achieve, it is solely because of Jiwan Sharma sir,” Shushila said.
The judoka, who competes in the 48kg category, has had a successful career - winning national events and a silver at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. She was the sole Indian judoka who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. While that was not quite a memorable outing for her, Shushila once again made her presence felt in Birmingham. “I am recovering from the injury and things are improving slowly. I will soon start for the Asian Games,” she said.
As she discusses her journey, a group of budding athletes gathered around her to click selfies. Shushila happily obliged. “Ever since I progressed to the senior-level, my aim has always been to make people aware about judo. Even though it is a popular sport globally, in India, it was still not very popular until recently, so I wanted to make people realise about the game and thought of how to popularise the game,” she said.
“Even now, wherever I go, I talk to young people about judo and try to make them understand about the importance of the sport. In Manipur, people are aware (of judo), but we need to ensure that it grows across the country,” she added, also referring to an opportunity to do this on a visit to Kerala recently.
When she first visited the SAI centre in Imphal, Shushila dreamed of donning the India colours someday and after being in the international circuit for more than a decade, her only aim is to ensure that India’s medal tally improves at the world stage. “With the love and support of the people, I am sure we can bring laurels for the country and make judo a popular sport,” she said before rushing to the airport to catch her flight back home.
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