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Sathwik Rai – Captain of Team India, Gold medal winners in Racquetball Championship

11 November 2010 2 Comments

Few of us get the honour of representing our beloved nation and even few amongst us bring laurels to our country. Today I am privileged to host the captain of the Gold medal winning team in Seoul International Racquet Ball Championship. Without further ado, it is coffee with Sathwik Rai!


Coffee With Sathwik Rai – Captain Team India, Gold medalists at Seoul International Racquetball Championship
Me: Sundar Rajan G S
SR: Sathwik Rai


Me: Hi Sathwik, Welcome to CWS.. Very proud to host the captain of a team which has won a Gold medal for INDIA!!

SR: Thank you very much! Glad to be here on CWS.

Me: Can you give some information about yourself

SR: I was born and brought up in Bangalore. Attended Bishop Cotton Boys School and later pursued engineering at NITK Surathkal. In 2002, I moved to the US to pursue graduate school at Drexel University in Philadelphia. I currently work as a Senior IT Consultant for a pharmaceutical consulting firm.

Growing up in Bangalore, I was a competitive swimmer. I had some early success in the sport – at the age of 13, I represented India at the Asia Pacific age group Championships in Singapore and won a bronze medal for the country in the freestyle relay event. For about 10 years of my childhood, it was all about swimming practice, competitions and schoolwork.

Me: What prompted you to start focusing on racquetball.. How long have you been playing..

SR: I quit competitive swimming at the age of 19 when most sporting careers usually take off. But in our cricket crazy nation, a swimming career was not an option. Like most young urban Indians in the late 90�s, I settled into a cushy software job and in 2002, I moved to the US to pursue graduate studies. All the while I knew that I never fully realized my sporting potential in India. I knew I was capable of more. I continued to work out and stay healthy and it was only after my graduate school in 2005, that I came across the sport of racquetball. It looked like great fun and a great cardio workout.
So 2005 was when I first learnt the sport. I started beating the old timers at my club and they encouraged me to take part in tournaments. The sport was well structured in the US and you could take part in different skill categories. I played my first US tournament in 2007 and won some local US tournaments. I have been playing for over 5 years now.

Me: Who is your mentor? Has anyone been influential in your games..
SR: I do not really have a single mentor. I never really received any formal training up until 2009 when I signed up to train at the US Olympic Training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado for a week under the vigilance of one of the top coaches in the game � Jim Winterton. I picked up the game watching some high level open players at tournaments in the US and learning some strategies from top players.

Me: Let�s talk about the world championship.. When you started to play, did you imagine India winning any medal? How did you feel on winning the Gold in the Team division?

SR: We went to the World championships with no realistic chances of winning any medals. Our main aim was to participate and get India recognized on the world racquetball map. None of the three members playing on TEAM INDIA were full time professional players. We had taken up the sport only after coming to the US as there were no racquetball courts in India. Fortunately all of us had previous athletic abilities which we could translate into the sport fairly quickly.

We were absolutely delighted to win the GOLD in the Team White division. Although we were lucky in the finals as Argentina had to forfeit due to an injury, it was an incredible accomplishment for us to make the finals.

Me: How did you prepare for these games? Can you also talk about your other team members?

SR: For the last 6 months before the tournament, I practiced 4-5 times a week. I worked on my weak areas. I would go to the court late nights after my full time job and come back home after 10 PM. I really had to push myself the last few months. But the fact that I was going to represent INDIA at the highest level, kept me motivated throughout.

My other team mates are great athletes. Raaj Mohan originally from Chennai is the star player on our team. He is an Open level player and represented his university four times at the US national inter collegiate level. He is the only Indian to have won an All American award twice.

Srikaran Kandadai is originally from Andhra Pradesh. He has made rapid progress in the sport and won a gold medal in his skill division at the US Nationals in 2007.

Me: Thats really cool. Can you talk about your experience at the event? The various teams you played with. Exciting moments. Tough moments etc.

SR: I will always cherish my experience at the world championship. I got to meet, watch and learn from the best players in the world. It was a great honor to represent India at the highest level in the sport. The toughest moment for me was my first match against seasoned World No 12. Canadian, Kris Odegard. I had never played at such a high level and it was going to be a daunting task to raise my game suddenly. I was both excited and anxious the night before and was quite nervous at the beginning of the match as this was my debut at a world championship. Once the match started, I just focused on each point and shut everything out. Although I lost, I did give it my best effort and gained a lot from that experience.

The most exciting moment was the opening ceremony – carrying the Indian tricolor was an amazing moment for me. It was my second time representing India. I had done it before at the Asian junior level in swimming and at the age of 32, I felt the same exhilaration that I had experienced as a 13 year old kid. I was also excited to win my individual singles match against Chinese Taipei and team doubles match against Tonga.�In the individual event I played against players from Canada, Ireland, Chinese Taipei and Tonga. In the team event I played against Bolivia, Guatemala, Tonga and Argentina.

Me: Needless to say this was one of your biggest achievements.. What are your other achievements in the game?

SR: My other noteworthy achievement in the sport was winning a silver medal in my age and skill division in my first appearance at a US National tournament in 2009. I also played in the amateur division at the US OPEN 2009 in Memphis, which is the highest grand slam event in the sport.

Me: So, What are your future plans?
SR: I still have a lot of room for improvement in the sport and I am determined to push myself further. I will continue to train and play in the US circuit and travel as much as I can. It is no easy task to balance my full time profession and play the sport at the highest level. Hopefully I can qualify for the Indian team again for the next World Championships in 2012.

I also want to help grow the sport in India. Our recent efforts have definitely sparked an interest in India as can be seen from the media coverage (HINDU: http://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/article621149.ece)�I also plan to get certified as an instructor and help younger Indian players make a mark in the sport.

Me: A standard question to all non-cricketers.. What do you think the future of the game in our cricket crazy nation?

SR: I personally think there is tremendous scope for growth of racquetball in India. But yes it is always an uphill task for non-crickets sports to get recognition in India. But things have been slowly changing in the last two years. Finally a country of over a billion people is making its mark in world sports as was seen in the recent Commonwealth games. Govt support and corporate support will be crucial for the sport to grow in India. The international governing body has been pushing to make it an Asian games sport. If we are able to get some courts built in India, I am sure people will pick up the sport quickly. We have always been good at racquet sports like badminton, table tennis and squash. I think people of all ages will enjoy racquetball and there is definitely potential for growth if the government invests some money in infrastructure. It is an exciting fast paced sport where the ball can travel at speeds of 180 mph!
Me: I am sure that is encouraging news. But, how easy it is to get sponsorship for these games.. To travel and take part in the various world events?


SR: As racquetball is a relatively unknown sport in India and the Indian racquetball federation was formed only in 2009, the Indian government was unable to provide us any financial assistance. We had to personally approach several companies to sponsor us for the World Championships. Eventually we were able to find a sponsor in NUESOFT technologies, an internet based medical software firm. It was not easy. Each of us took it on upon ourselves to raise funds. We sold t-shirts, approached well wishers, friends and family and raised as much as we could. Wilson Sports sponsors my equipment for the sport such as racquets, bags, shoes, gloves, goggles etc.

Me: Finally, Whats your advise for young sportsmen who aspire to represent the country?

SR: Never let anyone tell you that you are not good enough. Anybody is beatable on a given day. There is no substitute for hard work and one day it will eventually pay off. Just believe in yourself and give your 100% and most importantly have fun doing it.

Me: Is there anything else you would like share the audience..

SR: I definitely encourage the audience to learn more about TEAM INDIA and racquetball. Check out the official team website at www.racquetballindia.com

You can also join our facebook page India Racquetball to follow TEAM India�s progress �
http://www.facebook.com/pages/India-racquetball/125096937505238
I encourage all of you to try the sport and I am sure you will have a blast!
Thank You!
Sathwik
Captain � TEAM INDIA

Me: Thanks a lot Sathwik!!


Readers, hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee With Experts. The entire collection of interviews can be found here.

Comments

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2 Comments »

  • K. Usha P. Rai said:

    The interview with the racquetball Champion has come out very well and very informative for the sports lovers in India. Youngsters should love sports and they should enjoy the game and play then success follows them!.
    You are doing a gtreat job of introducing the achievers to your readers!

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