"Now, it’s time for the world to know me.”

Shooting his way to records Sidhartha Babu Keralas best rifle master who has never had a coach
news #InspiringTales Thursday, October 06, 2016 - 16:53

Way back in 2002, Sidhartha Babu was an enviable all-rounder. He used to dabble in martial arts, while being an assistant to a radiation physician at the Regional Cancer Centre in Thiruvananthapuram. In his spare time, he also used to impart karate lessons to the kids at Jawahar Bala Bhavan in the state capital.

But the same year saw him involved in a ghastly motor accident, leaving him a paraplegic. Undeterred, he chose to pursue excellence in both academics and sports.

An MCA from the College of Engineering Trivandrum did land him a couple of cushy jobs, but he left it all for his love for shooting.

Unable to move out of bed for a year after the accident, Sidhartha had all the time in the world to sort out his thoughts and ask himself what exactly he wanted from life. And the answer was simple: “I have always wanted to be a hero. Not that I wanted to save the world or something, but the thought that each human is capable of being a hero, if one lives up to the innate potential hidden inside you, that is what I focused on.”

Today, Sidhartha is Kerala’s top shooting champion in the 50 metre prone rifle category, and this while competing with able-bodied shooters. Sidhartha is also a national-record-holder in the disabled category. The icing on the cake? He has never had a coach, and is entirely self-taught.

“One has to learn to be ‘perfectly’ in the moment if you are aiming for the bull’s eye. In the 50m event, one has to shoot 60 rounds one after the other. It has taken a lot of effort, persistence and dedication for me to reach where I am. But I don’t intend to rest on my present laurels. Now, it’s time for the world to know me,” he chuckles boyishly, as he shares his tale of sheer grit with The News Minute.

Enthralled by guns at a very young age, it was the rifle he fell in love with. “Hand-guns don’t fascinate me. Rifles do. The technique, accuracy, distance, control, the weapon per se ...all aspects of this firearm leave me mesmerized,” says Sidhartha.

After shooting himself into the record books in the disabled category at the National level, Sidhartha gained further laurels when he became Kerala’s state champion in the 50 metre prone rifle category in August 2016, while competing against shooters with no disabilities.

Considering that this win came after the National Rifles Association of India (NRAI) had not allowed him to compete in the general category in the 2015 National Games, citing technical difficulties, this must have been nothing short of sweet revenge.

“To be told at the very last moment that you will not be able to compete, was indeed very disheartening. But that very day, I started training in the prone position, so as to ensure, next time, they could not cite my wheelchair as an impediment. When you are lying on the floor, it really does not matter, whether you are able-bodied or a paraplegic,” he grins.

It has been just over a year since Sidhartha began practising shooting lying down. The remarkable progress he has made is there for all to see, “My medals vouch for that.”

What makes his achievement all the more commendable is the fact that he is a self-taught shooter. “I have never had a coach in my entire life till date. I began pursuing this as a mere hobby, before taking it up seriously as a sportsperson. But now that I aspire to be part of the 2020 Paralympics, it is high time I get myself a coach. I have submitted a request to the government to send me abroad for training, as I need to compete in at least 6-8 international events where a podium finish will automatically ensure a berth in the Olympics,” he remarks.

Sidhartha has never allowed his paraplegia to limit his passion to attain greater heights. “Being paraplegic does not restrict the flow of energy in me. Being a martial artist, I know how to build my body and work on my muscles. It has been a long journey. One fine morning, when you become paralyzed all of a sudden, your entire world changes in a moment. You have to re-learn everything. My own family did not know how to deal with this person who was half-dead. You can’t blame them. I realized I had to start finding solutions for everything, and I had to begin from scratch,” he recalls, with not an iota of self-pity in his voice.

Inventions came naturally to him, as he was always into making something or the other.  So he made many useful gadgets including a sports wheelchair, a car hand-control and special knee braces. “Are you aware that you can get a carbon fibre sports mountain bicycle for around 13,000 rupees, but not a decent wheelchair which can cost you minimum a lakh?” he asks.

Ask him whether he applies for patents for his various inventions, he looks genuinely puzzled: “I invent these, so that people can use them. Why would I want to patent them? I don’t do it for money.” This, despite him having to struggle really hard for funds to participate in various shooting events, both within the country and abroad.

“For small competitions, I manage on my own. Till two years ago, I used to work and so have a bit of savings, which I use exclusively to fund my sporting career. It’s an expensive sport. The rifle -that I use- itself costs Rs 6 lakhs. A shooting jacket is priced around Rs 40,000. For big/international events, the total cost can range from two to fifteen lakhs.”

Though he is surprised at Indian society’s indifference to nurturing its sporting talent, Sidhartha is supremely confident that he will be able to break into the top rankings at the international level. Currently ranked World Number 20, he prefers to focus completely on his training rather than rue about the apathy and general indifference sportspersons seem to attract from all those around them. 

“It may be because they have more important things to think about. But I genuinely believe that the sincerity and truthfulness with which one pursues his or her goal will never go unrewarded. You really need to take a holistic view of life, rather than let such things interfere with your ultimate aim.”

(Photographs by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair)

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