Elavenil Valarivan calls herself a loner. Understandable, considering shooting demands its practitioners to be just that. But when one hears a 19-year-old say she has never had friends, it stays. The 10-metre air rifle shooter enjoys her space and solitude and is not overtly perturbed by lack of people around her. This, she says, helps her get into the zone, precisely what she'll need when she competes at the World Cup this Saturday.
Valarivan's countenance and demeanour though belie her 'loner' status. A bubbly teen who enjoys talking, she giggled with the press on the tournament eve, dropping nuggets such as this: "I am always sleepy in the range, I don't know why. I just tell myself, this will be over in an hour and then I can sleep."
"I like being alone. I never had many friends, as shooting took most of my time. But yes, I enjoy spending time with myself, and I think it helps my shooting," Valarivan tells Firstpost.
2018 was a breakout year for Valarivan — like most of the upcoming teenaged shooters in the country — and though she didn't exactly set the stage on fire like Manu Bhaker or Saurabh Chaudhary, she did enough to make people sit up and take note.
Following her surprise gold at the 2017 Nationals, she won a bronze at the World University Games in March. She backed it up with a Junior World Cup gold in Sydney, where she shot 631.4 in qualifying, a games record. She later bettered that score at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range in the capital, the venue for the World Cup.
Next, she shot a silver medal in the junior category at the World Championships in Changwon to cap the eventful year.
"Last year was a really special one for me. I shot well and got some very good results. My only aim at this World Cup is to retain the zone I was in, and give my best. There's no score or medal that I am after, I just want to do the best I can," she says.
"I think the fact that the event is happening in Delhi will be an advantage for us as we spend a lot of time in the year at this range. The home support will surely lift us. I am not feeling any pressure as of now; instead, tough situations bring the best out of me."
Valarivan would know. As a 15-year-old when she began to pursue shooting seriously, she would board a bus from her Ahmedabad home at 5.30 am to travel 30 kilometres to shoot. By the time she would finish school and hit home after a string of tutions, it would be 10.30-11 pm.
By the time she reached Class 11, she shunned school completely as shooting took complete control of her life. The bus rides were replaced with long, lonely car rides until driving became a drive itself. It's not impossible to imagine that dreams of excellence were first unravelled on those stretches.
She found a mentor in Olympic bronze medallist Gagan Narang, who taught her the virtues of patience.
"He may come across a very serious man, but we have our fun moments too. My biggest takeaway from his mentorship is patience," she says of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee.
At the Delhi World Cup, Valarivan will enter the range with experienced teammates such as Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil, both of who have secured Olympic quotas. The youngster's journey from looking up to these shooters to shooting alongside them has been swift and fulfilling.
"I have always looked up to them (Anjum and Apurvi). When I started shooting in 2014, they were already established shooters. I just wanted to train with them and it took me a while to reach a level where I can shoot with them. Now that I am here, shooting with them gives me a sense of fulfilment. However, once you enter the range, it doesn't matter if you are a kid or an adult. You just stand there and shoot," Valarivan, who will be competing in only her second seniors' event, said.
The World Cup will be played with the 60-shot rule for women and the youngster feels she has adjusted to the latest tweak.
"I don't think this will going to affect me because I practise 100 shots anyway. Also, I think the 60-shot rule gives you more time to shoot well. 40 shots too give you enough time to shoot your best, but the additional 20 shots does help and they can change the scoreboard completely," she said.
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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2019 21:51:45 IST