From Fears to Medals | Life Changing Event of My Sports Career
Whether we acknowledge or negate; majority of the paths we pick in our lives are driven by the nature and intensity of the fears that we possess. These demons penetrate and start dwelling in our sub-conscious either through inheritance from elders, traumas or sometimes through untraceable sources due to immature awareness of intense emotions in our early childhood. With the passage of time it gets harder to even express them due to a sense of embarrassment. Then throughout the existence we attempt to navigate our lives in the avoidance of the associated objects and abandon the beautiful tracks that we might have strolled otherwise. The beauty that I shunned for a long time was the mesmerizing view of the vast rivers, oceans and lakes. I am grateful to my parents who left no stone unturned to provide me all the finest that they could, but for unknown reasons since childhood, I had a fear of water commonly referred to as ‘Aquaphobia’, which for me unlike the definition was mostly for a large quantity of water. I often had nightmares were I would be diving towards a lake from a cliff, my heart would just stop beating on the way and i would feel like drowning even before touching the surface of water. (Image Source) Allure of the unreachable or life's calling? The irony of life that I was fascinated by the idea of sailing or a similar approach and happened to develop a mysterious attraction towards an intense and beautiful water sports called ‘Rowing’. However, as I mentioned earlier about the fears and avoidance of their associations, I confined myself to the usual sports like cricket/soccer and made an effort to ignore the idea of gracefully piercing through the blue waters and forging the muscles into iron-pipes. But, occasionally miracles happen that we manage to shatter those chains and reclaim our freedom either through persistent work on will-power or clutching an opportunity that life brought us. Interestingly, that opportunity came in my life as a repay to the favor of my university senior. It was year 2005 and I was in my 1st year of engineering bachelors in the top-ranked and insanely huge university of our country (University of the Punjab). I do not exactly remember his courtesy but, I can recall that I expressed my repay concern, to which he calmly replied “I am about to graduate and I am afraid there are no more rowing players in our university club. I desire to train you and if you wish to repay, do rowing for our club”. At first instance I felt a wave of excitement, which soon vanished and by now you know why, but I couldn’t explain to him. I took my time to consider and finally decided to give it a try for it could be the only chance for me to learn the beautiful sports and who knows grow bigger than my demons. We departed towards the club and while crossing the bridge over the canal that divided our university, I had my first glimpse of our club boats. This picture could not reflect the original grace as the phone cameras we had back then were VGA "It isn't that vast, i shall be in the boat, also there would be a trainer so what to worry", i was telling myself each time i would go for training. Unlike the carbon fiber lightweight boats these were more like heavyweight wooden 'Cornish gigs' (around 80-90 kgs) and it really required an effort to row them. Long story short, intense training began and eventually some of my class-mates joined the club and we started preparing a team for the following-year horrifying clash of all the provincial (county/state) colleges. Tournament that challenged the nerves (Our club's rivalry): The big event was approaching fast so, we were made aware of the preceding years standing of our club (ICET), which for many years had been stuck at 2nd place out of about 8-10 clubs and the 1st place was secured by a rival club (PGC). It was time to organize the game-plan and the responsibility of the captaincy was put to my shoulders and despite of the secret distraction due to phobia, I had done a sufficient amount of practice. The big day had arrived and the condition was to row against the flow of the canal and in 5 time-trials categories:Single scull (1 person rowing) 100, 200 & 400 meters Double scull (2 rowers) 400 meters Quad scull (4 rowers) 800 meters One athlete could compete in 1 with maximum 2 track’s and due to my ‘single scull’ training, I took 2 sprint (power) tracks of 100 & 200 meters. We had our motivational speech, shouted hoorah and the clash began. Our remarkable rowing team. Me (third from the left in the sitting pose) Single Scull (100 meter race): Due to preceding year's standing, our rival PGC’s rower was first to take the 100 m single scull and he completed it nicely in about 78 secs 20 microseconds (78:20 secs). Now was my turn, I took my boat and row it to the starting point, recalled my training, tried to ignore the water and started landing power strokes. I completed my track with all the heaviness and the average of 3 clocks of referees displayed: 78:34 secs. I was at 2nd position with microseconds difference and I knew in my heart where the gap came from. However, there was a condition that if two rowers come in microsecond difference, then due to “time-lapse error advantage” they can re-challenge the track and attempt again at the end of the tournament. However, right then it was time to refocus on the 200 m track that was next. The rowers from 4 other participating clubs also took their tracks but it became evident that those clubs were not a serious threat for the top 2. Single Scull (200 meter race): In single scull 200 m, the a different rower from PGC club gracefully finished with securing 1st place in about 182:38 secs, and I again secured 2nd with microseconds difference (about 182:56 sec). It was getting so frustrating, even though the advantage could be played but for the first time in my life, i started to despise my water-fear and started confronting it immensely. Adding to that, a rower from a different club (IU rowing club) managed to place himself at the 1st place, and PGC's rower dropped down to 2nd and consequently my rank to 3rd. My tracks were over and to spare us the irrelevant details of the other categories, i have summarized the final standings of the top 4 clubs in the table below, where overall we were not even securing 2nd but, dropped down to 3rd place. Standings of the top 4 rowing clubs after the 1st round. Bold are my tracks (Only Time-lapse challenges remained) Game was not over yet | The loud roar of return: I could vividly see the eyes of my classmates, which had fell into despair, and were wedged on me so that I could bring them some moments of joy. And, I was drowned in my thoughts ‘what if, my performance would be weaker and all I shall bring is more of this gloominess’, because in the past it rarely happened that after the exhaustion of 2 tracks someone could improve his score.My First Challenge for Single Scull (100 meters): The intensity of the moment was so overwhelming that I felt a complete absence of all the doubts and fears. I challenged my 100 m track, took the boat and went to claim what I never had before; a complete freedom and harmony with my demons. Honestly, I started cursing my rivals in heart, then with voice and became louder & louder with every stroke of my oar. I didn’t even feel that I was rowing or if my energy was being utilized because in a flash the track was over. I barely came back to senses that I saw my team-mates jumping like crazy. I had beaten the 1st placed PGC’s rower with 2 solid seconds and had claimed the 1st place, leaving no margin for him to even challenge the track in response. My Second Challenge Single Scull (200 meters): I was completely pumped up, I could feel that my eyes were dizzy and my head was foggy, a heavy shot of adrenaline was rushing through my blood like never before. Keeping the heat of the moment I decided to challenge my 200 m track as well, I was truly enjoying it then. My team-mates kept walking on the pathway adjacent to the canal during my whole track and were bucking me up with all they got. While, the opponents were shouting out loud ‘he cannot do it, it is impossible’. This race felt a little bit longer than the previous one and when I met the finishing line, everybody had went to check the time. But, I felt like I didn’t need to know it anymore, the sense of breathing that I had gotten was more than sufficient, I was touching water with affection and gratitude for it had brought me so much enough already. I was coming out of the boat when my horde rushed towards me, lifted me up and a loud roar of celebration began. I had beaten everyone with 6 seconds margin and even though those points were not enough for our club to overall claim the top position but, all were celebrating like we had broken world records. For me, i had, but not in race. Final results after my challenges, our club secured 2nd and i earned a gold, silver and liberty Entry to national rowing & earned medals: Apparently, that tournament turned out to be a seed for my larger rowing career because among the judges was the chairman of Pakistan Rowing Association (PRA). Seeing me secure gold and silver medals for my team with such solid comeback, he instantaneously offered me his coaching to join the national level rowing competitions. I took the offer and also kept playing for the university club, where i retained my 1st position in the rivalry with PGC following that year. The national level competitions were usually conducted using carbon fiber boats and due to their unavailability, i had to practice on an indoor rowing machine 'Ergometer'. That machine was not the ideal training option, but I managed to win a bronze on national level however, for further training i should have been sent off to a different place for about 6 month. This could have immensely affected my studies and finding a relatively dull future of rowing (at least in my country), i gave up on the brilliant sports and followed my educational career. Below are the medals i secured during my 3 years (2006-2009) of rowing career:Provincial Level: 2 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze National: 1 Bronze Next year i even broke the record, so the committee stamped it on my certificate (top right) Bruce wayne overcame the fears of bats and became batman, I didn't turn into an Aquaman however, I am content that now I can fearlessly look back at those pages to feel a positive vibe of pride, a sense of achievement and a warm wave of gratitude. It does not convey that I am free from my all demons, but it just showed me a way to live in harmony with them. Thank you for your time & attention.