For several years, Ridhi Phor has been quietly waiting his turn. She came close to a spot on India’s three-member recurve women’s archery team for the Paris World Cup in June, which was a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. , the pandemic has stalled its progress.

After a long break, it’s now time to leave for the 17-year-old. Ridhi is part of India’s new squad for the weeklong Archery World Championships which kicked off Sunday in Yankton, USA. She finished in the top three among recurve archers in last month’s trials, where none of the Tokyo contingent, including Deepika Kumari, was selected. In a sport where many of the country’s top players have prided themselves on cheating on the biggest stages, the teenager is among the brightest prospects.

“This tournament is very important to her. She was supposed to play a few international tournaments in the past two years but couldn’t go due to the situation, ”said Manoj, Ridhi’s father.

Ridhi’s progress has been steady since she was first selected for the Asian Cup World Ranking Tournament at the age of 13. In this 2018 edition of stage 2 in Manila, she won bronze in the mixed team as well as in the team event. She pocketed three more international medals in the team and mixed events over the next year, although she has yet to replicate the kind of performances in the individual event. Her dad thinks it’s a matter of time, as she does it regularly in the national circuit across age groups after winning her first medal (silver) at the Senior Nationals at 14. She was crowned junior national champion in 2019 and in the same year he also won silver in the senior tournament after losing to Ankita Bhagat in the play-off.

“With the exception of her first national championships, she has won medals in every tournament she has participated in,” said Manoj. “I am convinced that at the international level, she will only improve with more experience and maturity.”

Trust his father to know Ridhi better than anyone because he was the only reason behind his archery journey. A aspiring college weightlifter, Manoj wanted his child to get into either pistol shooting or archery. The first was too expensive for a man who ran a small ice-making business in Karnal, Haryana. Getting a bamboo bow and arrows was comparatively cheaper and so, when Ridhi was two and a half years old, Manoj had focused on sports for her.

When Ridhi was eight years old, Manoj realized that she needed professional guidance. His research led Manoj through Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and even the famous Gurukul Prabhat Ashram to Meerut which produced Olympic archers. But with the parents uncomfortable with a young Ridhi who stays away from home and moves to the training base, most places have turned him back. Manoj therefore opted for the next best option: to bring the training base home, even if it means putting on the coach’s cap himself.

Manoj found an academy in Gurgaon that was ready to teach him the basics of archery. For three months he left the management of the business to his wife, stayed as a paying guest in Gurgaon, and practiced archery for 8-10 hours a day. “Everyone, from the other academy interns to my PG roommates, laughed at me saying ‘look at what this man is doing at 33.’ But I wanted to learn the sport so that I could teach my daughter,” he said. Manoj said.

With the crash course over, Manoj proceeded to drag Ridhi into any possible empty space he could find in Karnal; by setting up the target in lots, fields, schools or private residential settlements nearby or sometimes even on the patio of their house. No matter when or where he took her, not once did Ridhi make a fuss. Not even on a harsh winter morning in December before dawn.

“We went to a nearby school to train. She was shooting arrows at 5 a.m. Standing behind her, I started to feel cold, so I walked into a room. In less than a minute, I thought: “At your insistence, your little girl does this and trains alone in this cold.” She is so dedicated and hardworking. On average, she would shoot 1,000 arrows a day, which is not easy at her age, ”he said.

This began to be reflected in his medals in various national tournaments in all age groups from the age of 10. Ridhi also progressed to training with international classical equipment under the guidance of Jiwanjot Singh Teja at the Punjabi University of Patiala.

Ridhi’s development journey took an important turn in 2019, when the Reliance Foundation began supporting her through its scholarship program for elite athletes. This meant having access to strength and conditioning experts, nutritionists, and mental trainers to prepare the young body and mind.

“When I first saw her it was clear that she was not just a typical teenager because she was so focused and talented,” said Leandi van Zyl, Head of Sports Science and Sports. strength and conditioning at the Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Center in Mumbai.

“We first did his baseline assessment, which includes biomechanical analysis, fitness, nutrition and psychological testing. From a fitness point of view, we did a movement analysis, where we looked at some instabilities or imbalances in his body. Next, we looked at endurance, strength, mobility, and stability, which is important for archers. It’s great to see how much she has grown over the past couple of years in these aspects, either physiologically or psychologically.

The latter, perhaps, is more crucial in a sport where even the most talented and experienced Indian archers have often collapsed under the pressure. This is an area in which Ridhi has shown signs of improvement.

“She is extremely dedicated and I have always seen her set specific goals. But she tended to choke on the pressure. Now she’s improved her ability to bounce back from adversity, and if she has a bad arrow she won’t let the whole set deteriorate, ”said Maithili Bhuptani, the centre’s chief sport and exercise psychologist. .

The process involves cognitive behavioral therapy, numerous self-talk and visualization techniques during games, simulated pressure exercises, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation, among others. Her father saw the changes in Ridhi’s behavior, from a girl who would show extreme emotions – too happy after wins or too sad after losses – to find a more balanced state.

In many ways, the way the 17-year-old’s mind develops and handles the emotions of a mentally demanding sport could go a long way in shaping her career. “She’s making progress there,” Bhuptani said. “She’s also learning from her elders, but there has to be something different. They reach these high levels and falter under the pressure. Ultimately, at that last second before you shoot, you need that self-confidence: will I do it or choke on the pressure. For Ridhi, we want to develop this self-confidence from now on. We want to have that in her as an instilled personality trait that gives her more emotional control. “

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