Jerlin Anika from TN lets her badminton racquet do all talking- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn” – Helen Keller, a renowned American author and disability rights activist

Jerlin Anika took that turn when she was eight years old as she accompanied her father J Jayaratchagan to watch his friends play badminton in their hometown Madurai. Despite being a child with speech and hearing impairment, nothing posed a barrier between her and the sport. She took an instant liking to it and hasn’t looked back since then.Now, at the age of 17, the young shuttler has brought fame to the country by winning three gold medals in the 24th Summer Deaflympics held at Caxias do Sul in Brazil .

“At first, I was merely trying to bring her out of her shell, to offer her a distraction, and make her mingle with other people. But from the spark in her eyes, I was able to understand that she fell in love with the sport. Happy that she has found her interest, I arranged a coach, T Saravanan, who is a mutual friend of mine. Little did I know that my daughter will scale such great heights, ”says a thrilled Jayaratchagan.

Besides helping the Indian team win gold by defeating Japan in the team badminton event in the Deaflympics, Jerlin bagged two golds in the singles and the mixed doubles event in the same tournament.

However, the shy teenager’s small and humble smile, as she faced the camera while showcasing her medals at the grand event, did not betray her excitement. Jayaratchagan says he even shouted in elation and shed happy tears when her victory was announced, but she remained cool and composed. “She hasn’t comprehended the level of her achievement yet. She takes joy in playing the sport, and after winning she moves on to her next goal, ”he says.

Her victory was a moment of pride for another person who played a major part in her journey – her coach Saravanan. He had nothing but praises for Jerlin, and humbly passed on all the credit to her. “Jerlin had good hand-eye coordination and was very focused. Talent coupled with hard work was what helped her achieve such great feats. All credits go to her and her determination to win. I was merely a guide, ”he says, adding that she followed his instructions to the tee, both during practice as well as matches.

Over the decade, Jerlin and Saravanan learned to communicate through gestures and lip-reading. They also discussed game plans through video calls when Saravanan was unable to accompany her to matches. But all was not a bed of roses. There were times when Jerlin lost a few matches in the open category and also experienced anxiety due to the crowd, recalls her coach, saying that mock matches during practice helped her a great deal. On the other hand, academics posed a big challenge.

Excelling in it as much as in sports was a hard task, given the 8-10 hours of practice sessions. “The private school in which she studied till Class 9 refused to admit her into Class 10 fearing she might not be able to produce the desired results,” says Jayaratchagan. “Hence we decided to give her a break from academics for a year, and then in 2019 enrolled her in a corporation school in Madurai where she received all the support and encouragement from teachers and students alike,” he adds.

Being a daily wage worker, Jayaratchagan was worried about not being able to support his daughter’s dreams. “It costs at least Rs 50,000 to take part in a national-level match. Thanks to some friends and family members, we were able to manage. From 2019 onwards, we received financial support from the state government and private companies to meet travel expenses, among others, ”he says. “The only thing that interests Jerlin other than badminton is fashion and clothes,” he says with a chuckle. She is quite adamant in that respect but her happiness means everything to us, he adds.

Scorecard

2017 Fifth place in Deaflympics, Turkey

2018 Championship in Kuala Lumpur

2019 Gold medal at the second World Deaf Youth Badminton Championship at Taipei

Two silver medals & a bronze medal at 5th Asia Pacific Deaf Badminton

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