Coach Suma Shirur explains how Avani Lekhara developed a champion's mindset

The national high performance coach recalled the time when she was first introduced to the Tokyo Paralympics gold medallist.

By Samrat Chakraborty
Picture by @SumaShirur/Twitter

Suma Shirur, the national high performance coach of the junior rifle team, has been a key influence behind the success of the Tokyo Paralympics gold medallist Avani Lekhara. It was an instant challenge for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) gold medallist as she had never worked with a para-shooter earlier in her career. But she decided to embark on an uncharted territory for her love of shooting.

That decision was rewarded on Monday morning when Avani Lekhara won gold medal in the women's 10m air rifle standing event.

The Athens 2004 Olympian revealed how she figured out that Lekhara's mindset was one of the important aspects to be worked on. It, however, turned out quite easy to work with the paralympian as the inteligent Lekhara quickly grasped what was required of her.

"Her father (Praveen Lekhara) was very insistent that I take her up (as my ward). For me, it was a challenge," Shirur told Olympics.com.

"Developing her mindset has been a major area of work because when she came to me, she had a lot of self doubts and a lot of questions.

"So what we really needed to work on is her belief and start to think positively. It was fighting against a lot of negative emotions and as she got technically strong, all those things slowly went away. I have seen a slow build up of her self belief in the last few years," she added.

Avani Lekhara won gold at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Picture by GETTY IMAGES

Shirur, further, also had to tweak the rifle set-up for Avani as she was completely dependent on a wheelchair following a major car accident in 2012 that injured her spinal cord.

"I started to work on her rifle setup and then her position. It was challenging because keeping the scientific base of the game, I had to improvise that and tailor-made it for the athlete," Shirur recalled.

"That was the challenge, for an abled bodied athlete, the lower body is the base but Avani uses a wheelchair and she uses it as a base. So I had to handle it and improvise and fit the scientific way of shooting," she said.

Not only that, Shirur also ensured that Avani's rifle was at-par with the best shooters in the world and thus replaced it with her old weapon.

"When she came to me she was using another rifle and we wanted her to be technically at par with the best in the world, so we got her the latest rifle for her and set it up. She shoots with the latest rifle available and we needed to ensure that it fits her body well," Shirur said.

All her efforts finally bore fruit on Monday when Lekhara scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman to win gold at the Paralympics after winning the women's 10m air rifle standing SH1 event. The World No.5 shot an impressive total of 249.6 in the final to equal the World Record and set a new Paralympics record.

And Shirur believes that having faith in each other has worked in favour of them.

"It has been a very nice experience working with her (Avani Lekhara) and through her feedback we could get things together and most important is the trust. And she was insisting that I should be with her at the Paralympics," Shirur said.

Now with a shot in the arm, Shirur believes that her student further has a chance to add to her medal haul at Tokyo Paralympics, in the R8 Women’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions SH1 event on September 3.