Aim. Shoot. Medal. Repeat- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

In compound archery, the distance between the archer and the target is 50m or around 60-65 steps. From that distance, the area that gains you 10 points roughly looks like the size of a water bottle cap. As a Compound bow comes with a magnifying scope, that area may look like an area similar to a normal coffee cup. For the last 10 years, those 50m and the target sheet, which is spread over some 80cm, have been Ojas Deotale’s entire life. And if you ask his father, Pravin Deotale, he would start by saying that’s not even an exaggeration. The school-going kid who fell in love with archery at a summer camp, on Wednesday, secured India’s maiden gold medal in the compound mixed team event along with  Jyothi Surekha Vennam.

Early in his career, Ojas realized soon that archery was not just a pastime for him. After learning and mastering Indian bow and Recurve archery Ojas decided to shift to Satara. From one end of Maharashtra to the other. “When he was training in Nagpur, he thought to himself that he was lacking somewhere. Then he took a decision to move to Satara and train under Pravin Sawant. At that time, we didn’t even know who he was, but we trusted Ojas to make the best decision for himself. The day after Ojas reached Satara, I spoke with Pravin sir for the first time,” Pravin Deotale told this daily.

“Once the training started in Satara, he was fully submerged in it. You know how big Diwali is for us, he didn’t even come home for that. He celebrated Diwali in Satara. Pravin sir applied Utane (a Mix of Ayurvedic powders used on the first day of Diwali) and treated Ojas like one of his family members. I will never forget that. I am getting emotional even talking about that day. That’s what a Guru does for his Shishya.”

All of the dedication came to fruition when Ojas was selected to represent India in the Archery Asia Cup. But before he could leave for the camps in Sports Authority of India’s Sonepat Campus, he fractured his foot in an accident. “It was brutal. After the accident, somehow we managed to bring him back home to Nagpur. We got so many calls from national coaches to ask about his condition. Because if Ojas was not in the position to go, they had to prepare someone else to take his place,” The doors were slowly closing down on his first-ever opportunity to don India jersey.

But the entire family was determined to do everything they could to realise this dream. “I requested them to give us some time so we could heal Ojas. A few days before leaving for Sonepat, he managed to stand up on his legs. I tried to buck him up by saying you don’t need your lower body to shoot arrows, all you need is your upper body. So get ready. Pravin sir said you just hit the arrow, we will manage everything else.” His family never gave up, neither did his coach and Ojas traveled to Sonepat on a wheelchair. Once he reached Delhi, he could use a stick for walking. Things were shaping up, but the mountain of hardships was awaiting them, testing all the resilience in the world.

“We all wanted to see him in an India jersey, so none of us gave up, and neither did Ojas. The management gave us the deadline to appear at the training centre in Sonepat and I said, I will come with you, but we are not letting this opportunity go,” Pravin Deotale remembers. One battle was over but there was another one waiting for them in Sonepat. “Coaches in Sonepat said he has to wear shoes if he is to compete for India. He was recovering from a fractured foot, how was he going to put on shoes? But we had to follow the rules. He was wearing the Crocs, but the management said there was no other option.”

This is where Ojas’ own single-mindedness took over. “In the afternoon, I went outside the academy for lunch, and by the time I came back, I saw Ojas practising with arrows with his shoes on. I asked him how did he manage that? He opened the laces completely and managed to fit his foot inside the shoes even though excruciating pain was making it harder by the second. There were tears in my eyes that day just to see how much archery meant to him. Even the senior officials of Sports Authority of India were shocked but he stood there. On his two feet,” Pravin said of his son, with a lump in his throat.

The next day, once he saw his son in his India kit, Pravin Deotale had tears in his eyes. “Once he was all set to go for Sharjah, I called up his coach and said, I will be leaving in some time. Coach asked me to wait as Ojas was about to receive his India kit. I said, I will reach the SAI centre immediately, I don’t even care about my reservations. I just wanted to see my son in his India kit. When I reached the campus, they got his kit. It had “O P Deotale. India” written on it. I will never forget the smile on his place when he got that kit. It felt like the beginning of a new dream,” the emotional father added.

Ojas not only competed in the Asia Cup in Sharjah but won the individual silver and team gold for India in December 2022. Since then, he has become the World Champion with a perfect score of 150 and already helped India bag the first gold medal in compound archery since 2014. At 21, the humble star has his entire career waiting for him and if the story of his first-ever international medal for India is any indication, one can be assured that Ojas will leave no stone unturned to make the most of it.

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