Former World number 1 archer and Arjuna awardee Deepika Kumari has carried the mantle of India’s ambitions in the sport on the world stage for over a decade since she broke through the ranks with her Delhi Commonwealth Games Gold and Asian Games Bronze medal in 2010.
A multiple-time Olympian, and two-time World Championships medal winner Deepika took a long leave of absence from archery since she gave birth to a girl child, Vedika, in December 2022.
The 29-year-old, who represents Jharkhand, showed that the long hiatus hasn’t diminished her hunger as she clinched the Recurve women’s individual gold beating Haryana’s Sangeeta 6-2 and the mixed team gold with Mirnal Chauhan.
She then teamed up Dipti Kumari and Komalika Bari to bag the women’s team silver as they lost the final to Haryana in a shoot-out.
“Honestly, Gold wasn’t a priority but my performance was,” said Deepika after the final. “My mindset was not about winning or losing. But it was about me giving my best performance. I wanted to concentrate on my shots and calm other thoughts that I had in my mind. This is something that will help me mentally in future also,” she added.
Speaking about how life has changed for her after becoming a mother, Deepika said. “This new life is not an easy change for me, it’s a 360-degree change. I talk with people around me so that I can manage my frustration and remain calm about everything because I have accepted the fact that this is my life now and I have to manage it all by balancing both worlds.”
The balancing act starts with dividing her time between taking care of her daughter without dropping the intensity of her training with sight set on making a comeback in the Indian team.
“I have been working on rebuilding my strength, and confidence and perfecting my technique so I can return to the Indian team at the earliest. My day starts earlier now at 5 am or sometimes even 4 am. I like to spend some time with my daughter in the morning before I leave for practice at 7:30 am.
“I return home by noon, then rest a little and leave again for practice and workout at 3:30 pm. I have a goal of shooting at least 300-350 arrows daily to get back to my best,” she added.
Deepika has also incorporated mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation in her routine to help her maintain focus, while she gradually ups the ante in her physical workout with running, bodyweight and light weight exercises.
She came into the National Games seeking a competitive platform to fix some problems in her game she had observed at previous tournaments and shake off the rust acquired from her prolonged absence.
While she is still one of the top stars in Indian archery and ranked number 2 in the world, Deepika is mindful of the challenge posed to her by the upcoming generation of young archers.
“Every archer is well-equipped in the national circuit these days and they all have their own strengths. The competitors these days are young and hungry to succeed, so we have to work extra hard as seniors to keep our place in the national team. I try to keep my calm and practice more than I used to before to be able to match their energy, while also using the knowledge and experience that I have gained over the years to stay at the top,” she said.