At the age of two, when children just about discover the joys of running around, Polio affected both the legs of Shiva Prasad. Since then, he had to depend on calipers and crutches to commute. At the age of 28, he represented India in the International Wheelchair tennis championship held in Bangkok in September 2015. His dream is to become number one in the wheelchair tennis players’ circuit.
The joy of playing
As a child, like many other children, Shiva was quite a cricket fan. He recollects, “I used to compete with people in cricket and was always captaining and leading my team in gully cricket games.” Shiva picked up tennis about two years back when he was introduced to wheelchair tennis by Seethram, the Secretary of wheelchair tennis in India. Since then, Shiva says, there has been no looking back.
Not so easy, not so fast
In a nation that celebrates every win and dissects every loss of the likes of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, and Sania Mirza, even mere recognition for Shiva’s feats has not come fairly.
A quick snapshot of Shiva’s achievements:
Bangkok Cup – Wheelchair Tennis, International ITF Future Series – Singles, September 2015, Runner Up in Consolation round
RYTHM National Wheelchair Tennis Championship-2014 – Doubles, Nationals, Semi Finalist, December 2014
RYTHM National Wheelchair Tennis Championship-2014 – Singles, Nationals, Quarter Finalist, December 2014
Shiva’s father passed away recently, and since then he has been the sole breadwinner, fending for himself and his mother. He has a full time job as a ‘search consultant’ at an ‘executive search firm’. Shiva gets to train only on weekends at the KSLTA and doesn’t even have a coach. How has he been learning the game then? And what about the guidance on technique and a training plan? “So far learning is only from observing other players and through online videos of Stephane Houdet (No. 1 wheelchair tennis player) or David Hall (Hall of Famer – Wheelchair tennis). “Shingo Kunieda – former No. 1 in wheelchair tennis – is my role model. I always try to copy him/play like him,” he says.
Eye-opening Bangkok experience
Bangkok was a great learning curve for Shiva. “I was surprised looking at the level of competitiveness and passion towards wheelchair tennis,” he says. Shiva was exposed to the international standards in the game. His interactions and observation of the Malaysian and Australian team drew a sharp contrast in how far behind Indian wheelchair tennis is.
A country known for heavily investing in sports and sportsmen, it comes as no surprise when Shiva tells us that the facilities and access that Australian para athletes have is at par with mainstream tennis in Australia.
The Malaysian players had a well-qualified coach and troupe of training staff. The staff would take the opponents videos, analyse the opponent’s weaknesses and pass on the live feed to the coach and players. All the players had specialised wheelchairs that enhanced their game. The Malaysian players were also given a stipend of 500 Malaysian ringgits.
Shiva’s journey to Bangkok was a far cry from that of his counterparts. While his counterparts were busy perfecting their game, Shiva was working out the math of how he could even make the trip happen. Shiva paid for his own flight tickets, managed a sponsorship from his company, some friends pitched in financially, and then he finally made it to Bangkok.
What our sportsmen need?
On the sad state of affairs, Shiva says,
Except for few there isn’t any backing for para sports which demotivates and forcing us to give up on sports. So far I haven’t given up tennis, but I am not sure how long I can keep going.
The government reimbursed Rs 30,000 for flight tickets after he came back. Shiva says,
Government reimburses airfare up to Rs. 30,000 which restricts us in participating in European countries. Hence, we are forced to participate in tournaments within South Asia.
Shiva says he has a long list of what he and athletes like him need, but some of the support and equipment needs are exigent:
Support from AITA (All India Tennis Association) or SAI (Sport Authority of India)
Qualified trainers and coaching staff
Tennis courts and gym facilities to practice every day
Advanced tennis specific wheelchairs. Shiva is running a campaign to raise funds to procure the specialised ‘quickie match point wheelchair’. Click here to donate
Financial support to participate in tournaments abroad
Shiva suggests that it’ll be a great boon if corporates adopted Wheelchair Tennis and supported the players.
Despite harsh conditions and struggling every single day, Shiva is prepping for Nationals, slated to be held in Bengaluru (KSLTA), sometime during April or May 2016. Next up, he’s looking forward to the Bangkok and Malaysian Cup in October 2016. Shiva’s ultimate dream is to win a medal for India at the Paralympics.
In future, Shiva plans on starting an NGO that would focus on raising funds for paraplegic athletes and would nurture them from a very young age. “To bring in awareness that we too can play and participate, working on their self-esteem and bring glory to the sports and the country at large,” says Shiva as he signs off.