Do you remember the first time you fell in love with an activity and decided never to part with it, ever? Merlin Dhanam does. She was in class 3 when she saw a skating rink for the first time.
"Something drew me to it but people around me felt that I was not meant to skate because I was overweight and that could make balancing on a skateboard and acing the moves difficult for me. I was determined; it took almost a year for me to stand on a skateboard and move around. I’m glad that I believed in myself," smiles Merlin, recalling her accidental tryst with the sport.
After many bumps and bruises, the 17-year-old from the seaside town of Puducherry will represent India at the upcoming 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou-China to be held from September 10 to 25, 2022.
On a roll
Merlin has participated in six national games and secured 11 medals - two bronze, six silver, and three gold.
"I started with speed skating for the first three years at the Thomas Speed Skating Academy. I eventually developed an interest in slalom skating when I was six years old, and participated in my first nationals when I was in class 7. It's been a slow and steady growth but I hold every milestone dear to my heart," says the class 12 student of St Joseph of Cluny Higher Secondary School, Puducherry.
Merlin is one among the eight skateboarders from India, and the only one from Puducherry, to be selected at the 59th National Roller Skating Championships in Mohali for the Asian Games. She's presently training under renowned skater Rajesh Rao from Mumbai.
"The pandemic did not hinder my practice sessions. The coach has been guiding me virtually. I’ve also been practising under the watchful eyes of my father Arpoudam Charles every day. I work out in the gym from 6 am to 8 am; I attend school from 8 am to 12.30 pm and complete my homework by 4.30 pm, then practise till 8 pm, study again, and hit the sack. This has been my schedule for many years now. The point is, I never get tired because this is something I love," she shares.
Beginning in March, Merlin will be touring as part of training camps for the Asian Games. "I will be competing in speed slalom, a type of skating, under the Inline Freestyle category. This is one of the many styles of skating. It's challenging because there are over 200 tricks to master, of which I can do about 80 to 90. Every millisecond matters in the race. I will be judged based on my fitness and timing. Speed and consistency are crucial in deciding the winners," explains Merlin, who has also been teaching skating to over 20 kids every day.
Towards a brighter future
Puducherry has evolved into a skating hub with the mushrooming of multiple academies and emerging talents. "Skating has gained popularity recently. Of the 300-400 skaters who participated in the last nationals, 92 were from our town. We rank second in the country, next to Maharashtra, in the total number of skaters who qualify at national levels. Youngsters from the neighbouring districts also come to learn here," she shares.
With consecutive victories at national and state-level competitions, Merlin feels responsible and reassured to perform better. "When I stood on the podium and clinched two golds at the last nationals, I said to myself that this is just the beginning. There are more championships to come. There's always going to be pressure and fear to win. But, I have a good set of trainers who emphasise on mental health, too. My goal is to keep working hard," says Merlin, who wants to pursue physical education and promote skating as a promising sport among the generations to come. "If we want to bring skating and skaters under the limelight, then we need more winners at global levels," she suggests.