Hammer thrower Padma Devaram challenges the best in air pistol

Padma Devaram, Chief Ticket Inspector of Railways, was leading in the women’s air pistol final ahead of some of the best shooters in the country in the Sardar Sajjan Singh Sethi Masters championship.

Hammer thrower Padma Devaram, after a near-perfect shot of 10.8 during the women's air pistol final during the Sardar Sajjan Singh Sethi Masters shooting championship in Delhi on Thursday.   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

She was a hammer thrower, winning 12 national level medals, including two gold. She has shared room with the country’s best athlete PT Usha.

Hailing from Chennai, the Chief Ticket Inspector of Railways, the 45-year-old Padma Devaram was leading in the women’s air pistol final ahead of some of the best shooters in the country including the eventual champion, the 14-year-old Esha Singh, in the Sardar Sajjan Singh Sethi Masters championship on Thursday.

Till she landed a 7.9 on the 19th shot, Padma, who has an unorthodox shooting style, had the rest of the field on tenterhooks.

"I don’t know what happened. I train on my own. The coaches tell me that I have a natural style and that could get affected if I am trained by them. So, I myself have to find the answers for my problems’’, said Padma, who had taken a loan from her provident fund account to buy a pistol worth 1.6 lakh rupees.

"I am ranked fifth in the country, and could have gone to the Rio World Cup as an MQS shooter. But that would have cost a lot of money, as government supports only the shooters in the main team. I will definitely improve my scores and get into the team’’, added Padma, who was still unable to digest her qualification score of 565.

"The qualification score played in my mind before the final. I was shooting very well before the bad shot in the final. I will find the answers. It is yet another lesson for me.

Quite grateful to the Railways for granting her permission and leave to compete in the shooting events across the country apart from the national selection trials, Padma does feel the anguish about not getting any financial support, even in terms of travel and daily allowance.

For someone who had taken to shooting only in the last two years, it was commendable that Padma missed a medal by 0.1 point, as she was overtaken by fellow Railway shooter, Ruchita Vinerkar, who went on to bag the silver.

National coach Ved Prakash Pilaniya was all praise for Padma even before the start of the final.

"She may not know the intricacies of shooting, but she consistently gets the good scores. She has her own style’’, said Ved Prakash, who had himself been a very good shooter and has groomed a number of shooters over the years.

A knee injury had stopped Padma’s throwing career with the hammer. She had tried the rifle for some time, before being told that the pistol would be her best weapon.

"Right from getting into a shooting club, it has always been a struggle for me. But that has only strengthened my will to achieve something in this sport. There are two more trials coming up, and I will work on these lessons and return better’’, she promised.

When you look at the fact that shooters like Esha, Harveen Srao, Shri Nivetha, two-time Olympian Heena Sidhu, Chinki Yadav, Devanshi Rana are ranked below her, you realise that Padma has progressed considerably with her rustic style.

Only Manu Bhaker, Yashaswini Singh Deswal, Shweta Singh and Annu Raj Singh are ahead of Padma in the national ranking. That is some achievement already by the brave lady, who has put her sporting career ahead of everything, including marriage.