KOCHI: Kerala athlete Nayana James’ return to the mainstream is a unique tale. Heralded as a future prospect after a string of good shows in the national schools and junior meets, she had once bid adieu to the track due to personal reasons and to pursue academics interest. She was 18 then.
However, fate had other plans for the six-foot athlete. Sometime later, she accidentally met Bobby Aloysius, who was then working with Kerala’s State Sports Council as an assistant secretary (technical).
Nayana went there to check whether she could get an admission in engineering under the sports quota. Bobby, a former Asian high jump champion and Olympian, couldn’t digest the fact that a promising athlete was about to hang her boots to join engineering.
“I felt it was a crime to let a talented athlete waste her career just like that. I told her parents to let her train and got her admitted in a college in Thiruvananthapuram in the arts stream,” Bobby recalled.
Three years down the lane, Nayana is a star athlete in the making, having won gold in long jump and sprint hurdles at her debut Federation Cup recently.
She will represent the country in the upcoming Asian Athletics Championship in Bhubaneswar from July 6-9.
After taking Nayana under her wings, Bobby decided to field her in heptathlon. Hitherto a long jumper, it was a tough ask on the teenager to rejig.
“I was giving her training in jumps while another coach was giving her training in hurdles. I didn’t have the guts to see her doing hurdles as I feared she might crash into the hurdles and get injured,” Bobby said.
However, Bobby and Nayana parted ways in 2016 due to some differences in opinion and Nayana joined Ajith Kumar, a coach associated with Alva’s College. Ajith proved to be instrumental in shaping Nayana’s career. He wanted her to focus on long jump and hurdles in the future.
“If she is doing heptathlon, she would have to plan and focus on seven events. She had the endurance, speed and flexibility to do both the events,” he said.
However, hurdles was an area of concern for Nayana as she was doing 17 seconds in the beginning. Ajith managed to bring down the timing in an unbelievable span of eight months.
“All I did was tweak her technique. It’s a tough ask for the athletes but she managed to grasp it well in quick time.”
Nayana had leapt 6.55m in long jump and clocked 13.96s in the Federation Cup, which earned her Asian Championship berths.
But the final selection is subjected to confirmatory trials that will be held in Bhubaneswar soon. The reason is that Nayana trains outside the national camp under her personal coach.