Syed Modi International 2018: Ajay Jayaram's love for art helps him paint away troubles of injury-marred career
Having been the leader of the men's singles pack as recently as April last year, Ajay has now fallen out of the top-50 in as many months, thanks to the series of niggling injuries that derailed his upward trajectory.
Lucknow: Ever wondered how an athlete overcomes debilitating injuries and the mental trauma that follows? The options to combat the physical niggles are many, but the psychological ones? Hardly any escape route.
For the former World No 13 Ajay Jayaram, whose career has been marred by injuries, childhood habit of sketching is an escape from the stress and setbacks he endures on the court.
Having been the leader of the men's singles pack as recently as April last year, Ajay has now fallen out of the top-50 in as many months, thanks to the series of niggling injuries that derailed the Chembur-bred shuttler’s upward trajectory.
The 2018 season hasn’t been great either. Apart from reaching the final of the Vietnam Open 2018, the 31-year-old shuttler has hobbled at international events. The hamstring injury Ajay sustained in the senior national in November last year, left him bewildered. After achieving a career-best ranking of 13 in April last year, a severe hamstring injury stood between him and the top-10.
“It has been pretty tough. I had a hamstring problem, a tricky injury that dragged on for 8-9 months,” Ajay told Firstpost.
He finally overcame the hamstring issue earlier this season and has managed to feature at international events every month. The Chennai-born lad has been focusing on strengthening a few areas. “I've found myself doing better than I had expected in my recent practice sessions. A few more months and I'll get back to where I was,” he says.
So, while Ajay was off the court and cooling his heels, he pursued his beloved hobby of sketching. “Art is an escape from the badminton world for me. Everyone has a creative outlet where they can bring out their emotions. For me, somehow, it's on a piece of paper. I always liked drawing as a kid but somehow I never got around with it later. In fact, I started sketching again two years ago,” he says.
To train, compete, battle injury layoffs without having a slew of questions lingering around your abilities is a tough ask. Handling the mental aspect is probably the biggest challenge when you're going through a tough time dealing with injuries and even during the latter stages of your career. “Doubts start to creep in,” says Ajay, who made sure he spent enough time with his family and friends while recovering from injuries. “But when you have such bad days, just remember why you started and why you joined the sport in the first place,” he added later.
The former Prakash Padukone Academy and Tom John trainee does not have the luxury of training under a full-time coach at a badminton academy. He is pretty much on his own, waging a lone battle with physical discomfort. However, he’s now used to what the sport has to offer. In fact, he admits that he overtrained quite a few times and injuries can’t just be avoided.
“You have to live with it. When you're 31, you've already played some 15 years of competitive badminton in an intense sport, it does take a toll on your body. Sometimes, it's also overworking. It's the same training again and again over a period of years.”
Regardless of injuries, the World No 50 believes that an athlete needs to try and experiment movements on the court. For him, understanding the body is the answer. “Even (Parupalli) Kashyap is in a similar situation. At some point, you need to find the right balance between training and recovery. I have pushed my self a little more than I should have at times. It's hard to crack a code when it comes to identifying the flaws.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Ajay showed glimpses of his quick movements and wrist wizardry to bag the opening game, yet he ran out of gas in the second set and the decider against compatriot Harsheel Dani. He lost the game 21-13, 13-21, 9-21 in the first round of the Syed Modi International 2018 tournament.
The upcoming Premier Badminton League as a platform to get back to his best. With new teams and world-class players, the PBL calls for a competitive season. "The competition is tougher and we have a strong team too,” said the Pune 7 Aces’ shuttler.
Ajay caps off another BWF season not the way he would have wanted, but as he steps off the court, art will come to the rescue. “I'm never going to let this go. Thankfully, injuries won't affect that,” he concludes.
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