To hell and back, shooter Arjun striving for more

Post injury troubles, Arjun's belief in process bearing fruit as he's set for Paris Olympics after good show in shooting trials
Arjun Babuta (left) finished with a final average score of 631.80 in the Olympic Selection Trials
Arjun Babuta (left) finished with a final average score of 631.80 in the Olympic Selection TrialsPicture credit: NRAI

BHOPAL: Shooters are a rare breed. They have their idiosyncrasies and beliefs. They will go to any extent to train their mind and win medals. Arjun Babuta also tried different things when an opportunity arose during the Covid lockdown. He would go sleepless during the night or wake up at odd hours so that he was accustomed to conditions that were extreme, hard and alien.

Arjun has had the toughest of times too. The 25-year-old was tormented by a bulged and displaced disc on his lower back. He used to collapse on the ground while shooting. The toughest phase was when one doctor told him that he would never shoot again.

But miracles do happen. Now, he is back stronger and more determined. "It was tough but I did not give up," he said after securing a berth in the Indian team for the Paris Olympics in the 10m air rifle. Sandeep Singh is the other shooter who finished in the top-two in the men's 10m air rifle category in the just-concluded Olympic Selection Trials (OST).

The process-driven shooter from Punjab has learnt the nuances of the sport through setbacks. Nothing could have made him stronger than surmounting a career-threatening injury. Now, he has a stronger belief in the process and adheres to certain routines. "I concentrate on my process; my shooting practice and my match routine," he said. He used the word process more than 10 times during the conversation.

Arjun believes in smart work rather than hard work. "I recovered from that setback (of injury) through the guidance of my friends and coaches who spread positivity. Thankfully, I am here now," he said. "Whenever someone is injured, the support of your friends and family matters. Injuries are a part of athletes' careers and one must not lose hope and belief."

Arjun then narrated an incident. "My body and spine were weak. I was doing too much hard work and not smart work. I was training for 9-10 hours. It was a back injury and I used to fall while shooting. The lower part of the body used to go numb. When the doctor told me that I would not be shooting anymore, I was shocked. Then I went to another doctor. I thought that the doctor cannot be good at all (laughs). I went to quite a few places like Chennai, Abhinav Bindra's centre and finally at PGI, Chandigarh. They diagnosed it and through a doctor in Patiala, Dr Naresh, I recovered."
There was some issue in the lumbar region. "I learnt that strengthening was also important. There was so much stress that I started taking a diet plan and strictly followed it. I had to take more protein. In 2019 October, I came back to shooting. Now, I am in the squad."

However, it was not easy for him either. The competition for a place in the Indian team is always tough, some even consider this tougher than any international competition. Even Arjun thinks so. "You can take anyone (shooter), anybody can win a medal at the Olympics. Everybody is good and there was pressure during trials also. They have given their best. You can see the scores were very good.

"There is an abundance of shooters in India and that's why the quality is very high. The sport is growing and more shooters are coming up. Good coaches are coming up as well. That's why there is a growth in competition. In India, it is much more intense than in international competitions. So, if someone is in the top three here, they are at the top in the world as well. It comes down to luck as to who will be in the team.”
Arjun spoke about his experiments with sleep and diet patterns.

"Lockdown was a blessing in disguise," he said. "It was a good time for me when I started following different workouts. Whatever technical gaps were there, I tried to sharpen them. I followed different sleep patterns. Sometimes I used to wake up at 3 AM, sometimes at 4. Sometimes I remain awake the whole night. I tried different things and understood what the body can take and what it cannot. So after lockdown when the trials began, I was topping all the trials.  After that, the Delhi World Cup, where I did very well but because of the policies at that time I could not go to the Olympics in Tokyo. I think that was God's plan.

"I will follow the process. Depending on the time of the events, I change my sleep schedule and diet. There were two options this time so I preferred to wake up early and eat less breakfast. Once there was a final in the evening, I had more breakfast. These are the small, small things that we keep in mind and we have to be aware of what needs to be done."

As of now, Arjun will take a short break and then go to the Munich World Cup. He will follow the process and keep a positive frame of mind going into the Olympics. 

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