No study, all play for para badminton star Palak Kohli

The 18-year-old won three medals, including a silver in the SU5 women’s singles category, at the recent Dubai Para Badminton International
By Samrat Chakraborty

Teenager Palak Kohli has put academics on hold once again as she continues to make waves in the world of para badminton.

The youngest para badminton player to qualify for the Paralympics at 18, Kohli has been forced to delay her 12th standard board exams, which she was supposed to appear for in 2020, yet again as the Tokyo Games are set to take place this summer.

But the Paralympics year began brightly for the girl from Jalandhar. Playing in her first international competitive event in over a year, Kohli bagged three medals at the 3rd Dubai Para Badminton International, which concluded on April 4. She won the silver medal in the SU5 (SU5 (Standing/upper limb impairment) women’s singles event, bronze in women’s doubles (with Parul Parmar) and bronze in mixed doubles (with Pramod Bhagat).

Kohli, whose left arm is not fully developed, was also participating in a singles event after almost a year and a half as she is recovering from a leg injury.

“Dubai was a very special tournament for me, because it was the first time since 2019 World Championships (in Basel) that I played a singles event,” Kohli told the Olympic Channel.

“I was diagnosed with bone marrow edema in the left leg after the World championships. It was very special to make a comeback. It’s not 100 per cent recovered right now, because bone issues take much longer to recover.”

Kohli was bed-ridden for almost three months due to the leg injury. She underwent hydrotherapy in New Delhi to strengthen the muscles around it and had to ease back into the game.

“Whenever I play, all the muscles around stick to the bone to protect the bone,” Kohli said.

“Then it causes muscle strain and muscle stiffness. So we are strengthening the rest of the body, so that part of the leg doesn’t take any extra load. Like I’m strengthening the ankle, glutes, thighs, hamstrings. But I’m happy we are dealing with it and overcoming it.”

The lockdown, forced due to the Coronavirus outbreak, last year may have come as a blessing in disguise for the youngster. Not only did it help her recover physically, but also gave her enough time to come back a stronger, more aggressive player.

“I had sacrificed a lot of things for the Paralympics,” she said.

“I had decided not to give my board exams in order to participate in the Peru and Brazil BWF Para Badminton International tournaments, which were the Paralympic qualification events. Then hearing that the Paralympics is also postponed was a tough one.

“But Welspun (women’s scholarship programme) supported me throughout, even during the lockdown. They always had my back. Also, SAI is doing a great job, they have set up a (national) camp for us (in Lucknow), which is a great support.

“I had a discussion with my coach (Gaurav Khanna). He told me it had given me one more year to work upon your game. After the injury, my coach had worked on making me a more skill-based player.”

The Dubai tournament turned out to be a perfect testing ground for the teenager. Not only did make a successful comeback in singles, but also showed that she was physically ready to play all the three events at a tournament.

“I was getting tired also,” Kohli recalled.

“I play women’s doubles also, with Parul (Parmar) didi, where I have to cover most of the court. She is of SL3 (Standing/lower limb impairment/minor) category. That is also a physically challenging event for me, same with mixed doubles where I play with an SL3 player. It was tough but I’m happy I crossed these hurdles and came back with three medals.”

She will next compete at the Spanish Para Badminton International before making way to Tokyo for the Olympics, where para badminton will feature for the very first time. Kohli is set to compete at two events: singles (she is ranked No 12 in the world) and women’s doubles (with Parmar).