In Conversation with Neeraj Chopra Boy with Golden Arm

Neeraj Chopra is the first track & field athlete to win a gold medal for India at the Tokyo Olympic 2020. He believes in giving his 100% in every tournament. In conversation with PHYSIOTIMES, Neeraj Chopra discusses his passion, hardwork and also the importance of having a Physiotherapist in the team.

Early life and how you started getting inclined towards athletics

I grew up in a joint family of 18 members in the village of Khandra in Haryana’s Panipat District. Growing up, there was no background of sports or athletics in my family. In fact, I was the eldest cousin so was pampered a lot by everyone and had put on a lot of weight due to which I was quite unhealthy by the time I was 12-13 years old. 

My youngest uncle (chacha) was the one who suggested that I take up some physical activity to lose some weight and improve my fitness. So, I started going to a gym nearby first, and then to the Shivaji stadium in Panipat, where I started my fitness and athletics journey. I used to do different types of activities there, and came across some seniors throwing javelin, which caught my attention. I tried it, and did well in my first few throws. Since then, I started training with my seniors that’s how my tryst with javelin and athletics started.

How was the initial training?

Our initial training was quite basic, at the Shivaji stadium in Panipat. I was lucky to have a good group of seniors (including Jaiveer, who I still consider like my brother) who knew the technical aspects of the sport and were able to guide me properly during the start. They were senior javelin throwers doing their training and I used join them and do what they would do. It went on like that for some time, before I got my first coach.

How many hours of practice you used to put in to maintain your fitness?

We used to train twice a day, for a total of 5-6 hours a day, for 6 days a week.

How was your experience at 2016 Junior World Championships?

The Junior World Championships were an important milestone in my career. I was only 18, but had already got the senior national record and had missed out on qualifying for the Rio Olympics since I had focused all my attention on the Junior World Championships. Having missed the date for Rio, I knew I had to do my best and win the nation a medal. 

In the 86.48m throw there was something I hadn’t expected. It was a huge feeling of pride for me to set a Junior World Record and become the first Indian to win an international track and field Gold.

What goes into the making of a champion?

I feel there are many factors that go in to  the makeing a of champion, the most important of which are hard work, dedication and patience. There are, of course, many other factors like support from your home, having a good team to guide and mentor you etc. but I feel that these are 3 factors that are indispensable to become a champion, irrespective of whether its the field of sport or otherwise.

Has your family always been supportive of Sports?

I consider myself extremely lucky to have always had the support of my family for me to be able to pursue my interest in sports. Even though we did not have much growing up, they never made me feel that I was not doing the right thing, and went on to support me to the best that they could, financially and even in terms of emotional support.

It is essential for every sportsperson to have a family that backs him/her in his journey.

What sort of training did you undergo to become a world class javelin thrower?

There is no special secret of training that I have undergone, I have just followed all the instructions given to me by my coaches and support staff, and given my 100% at each training session with the intention to be the best version of myself at each training session and by extension, each competition.

Of course, there are certain training requirements that one needs to fulfill to be a high-performance athlete, like eating the right nutrition, training well, and ensuring adequate time for rest and recovery. But apart from that, I trust my team completely and follow their instructions, without trying to miss on even a single throw or a single rep at the gym. That is the power of hard work, dedication and consistency that I feel very strongly about. 

What was your diet regiment during training and tournament?

From the diet perspective, I don’t have any fixed or specific diet. But I try to take care of a few things like avoiding sweets and fried foods when I’m training. We have a nutritionist who gives us certain plans to follow but I largely try to eat home food with some salads, chicken or fish, and lots of veggies to keep my diet balanced.

When was the first time you heard of physiotherapy as a health care discipline and that a physio can make a difference to your fitness?

I first understood the benefits of physiotherapy as a health care discipline in 2016 when I was facing some trouble with my shoulder before the South Asian Games for which I was thinking I might have to skip that event. My sponsors JSW Sports had assigned a physio (Aayush) with me who worked on my shoulder and rehabilitation to get me on track for the event.

Similarly, once I started traveling with my current physio (Ishaan) continuously since 2017, that’s when I started feeling the real difference that can be brought about by physiotherapy, and the importance of a physio in an athlete’s support team, during training and competition. 

 What role has physiotherapy played in helping you manage your injuries and maintain general fitness levels throughout your career

I have had a personal physiotherapist (Ishaan Marwaha) assigned to me since 2017 and he has become a crucial member of my team since then. He travels with me wherever I go, for training and competition, and has been by my side throughout my successful 2018 season and the rehabilitation from the elbow injury in 2019-20, leading into the preparations for the Tokyo Olympics.

Ishaan is a part of almost all of my training sessions and works closely with my coach to manage training load, and treat any minor niggles that are a routine part of training hard. Moreover, he also helps keep me in a positive mindset ahead of competitions, which is also very important.

Who were some of the physiotherapists you have worked with closely in your career?

I have spent the major part of the past 4 years with Ishaan, who has been appointed by JSW Sports as my personal physio. Before Ishaan, I worked for a brief period with Aayush. Besides, I also visit the Inspire Institute of Sport in Bellary for rehabilitation and have worked with the team of physios there, including Sandhya Silal previously and Dhananjay Kaushik in recent times.

 Your message to young Physiotherapists who want to take up Sports Physiotherapy as a career

I would just like to tell them all that they can play a massive role in the journey of an athlete towards his/her goals. 

They should know that a good physiotherapist can make or break an athlete’s career and therefore, they have a huge responsibility to ensure an athlete is training well and in full fitness and injury free during different parts of their training cycle.

How will you describe your moment of Gold at Tokyo?

I would describe it as a very special moment, it was a moment that brought together many years of hard work, dreams and effort together for a special moment of hearing the national anthem on the podium. That feeling was everything for me.




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