CHENNAI: When Aditya Mehta boards a flight from Mumbai to London on Wednesday night to take part in three qualifying school events in Wigan from May 18, it will be understandable if he takes a moment or two to compose himself.
The two-time former national champion (2011 and 2012) has had a tumultuous four years in the sport and there is much riding on this latest comeback — if he does well, he will secure a two-year pro card. If he does get it, the 33-year-old will have something to look forward to in the short-term. Something to cling on to after a couple of years from hell.
For the Gujarati suffers from a condition known as ‘Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease’. In layman’s terms, three of his discs in his neck (C5, C6 and C7) are damaged. Even as he explains his condition, the agony in his voice is clear.
“It doesn’t heal itself, I have to manage on my own by physiotherapy and so on.”
To rest up properly and gain some strength in his shoulders, he sat out from the sport from April 2018 before getting back to the table in January this year.
But there was a time in his life when he ignored the pain and the warning signs. “2014,” he says. “I kept playing when I shouldn’t have.” There was even a point that year when the pain was so brutal that he collapsed in his room in Manchester. But Mehta soldiered on, hopping from one arena to the next in search of challenges.
The initial diagnosis — or the lack thereof — did not help. “I consulted scores of doctors, chiropractors, physios... but nothing worked to be honest.”
When he had contemplated quitting the sport altogether last year, lady luck had finally decided to pay him a visit. A fellow Indian Oil athlete had recommended a sports physio and since then he has learned to control the pain in the neck area. “At the Worlds in 2018, I decided I couldn’t keep going like this any longer.”
Since coming back to the fold in January, he has already risen to No 3 in India apart from scalping Pankaj Advani in the final of the CCI Invitational in March. He knows he is not yet a 100 per cent but doesn’t want to waste time because Q school events take place only once a year. He isn’t expecting a miracle in Wigan but he has gone through an awful lot. For starters, he has had to change his stance to manage his pain properly.
“The cue usually is in contact with the chin when we line up to strike. Me? Not so much. I have been advised to keep a distance of at least four inches between my chin and my cue. It’s not that I don’t have the shots I had previously but it’s now a question of having to adapt.”
Reach the semifinals in one of the three qualifying events and he will get back to the promised land. If he does, he would have answered that question with aplomb.