Teenage archer Ridhi Phor determined to turn Olympics dream into realty
Ridhi has won five international and 44 national level medals. On the radar now is the holy grail for an archer – the Olympic Games.
Her target is a tiny yellow circle on a board 70 metres away. As she steps up to shoot her arrow, she must consider the direction and speed of the wind. Her sight must not wander. Her hands must not waver. She must block out the noise in the arena. She must learn to conquer the voice in her head that sows seeds of doubt in her mind. Only then can she let go of that arrow towards its destination. Towards that tiny yellow circle on a board 70 metres away.
Ridhi Phor is only 16. She is an archer. She has learnt to do all of this. And she has learnt to do it all very well.
“Archery is a lonely sport because it’s just you out there with your thoughts,” she says. “Due to this I end up speaking to myself a lot. I try to tell myself that as long as I focus and give it my all, it will be okay. It is easy to get lost in thoughts like ‘what if I don’t perform well’ but I try to limit that by having a positive mindset.”
At Ridhi’s home in the town of Karnal in Haryana, there is a separate enclosure for all the medals she’s won. Her father Manoj Phor, who began coaching his daughter just after she turned eight, says the family ensures they enjoy each of Ridhi’s successes with a raucous celebration. Manoj maintains a meticulous log of his daughter’s feats, along with a scrapbook of the media coverage she receives. In the last eight years, he proudly proclaims, Ridhi has won five international and 44 national level medals. On the radar now is the holy grail for an archer – the Olympic Games.
Ridhi is undoubtedly knocking on the door. At the two National trials held to select the three-member Indian team for the Games in January and February, she finished fourth in both, competing against much older archers with years of international experience.
Evidence of her exceptional talent had been visible for a couple of years. At her first international competition at senior level, Stage 2 of the Asia Cup in Manila in 2018, as a 14-year old, she won bronze medals as a member of the women’s recurve and mixed recurve team. In the individual event, Ridhi finished seventh in a field of 30, higher than any other Indian archer and a spot above Promila Daimary, a regular in the national team. At the next Asia Cup event in Taipei a few weeks later, she won silver in the mixed recurve team category and another bronze in the women’s team event, finishing seventh again in the individual category.
Although still only in her early teens, Ridhi’s potential to be a world beater was clearly visible in her initial results. However, for her journey to continue to progress smoothly, Ridhi needed further support. In 2019, Ridhi received that much needed shot in the arm with Reliance Foundation (RF) coming on board to support her quest to become a top class archer. Ridhi could now procure the best equipment and participate in important competitions. When RF started supporting Ridhi, she was the youngest archer in the top 200 of the World Rankings. She went on to win a Bronze in the Team event at the Under-14 Asian World Ranking Tournament in China and also won Silver and Team Gold at the Senior Nationals.
“The sponsorship provided by Reliance Foundation has played a pivotal role in my development as an athlete,” says Ridhi. “They have provided me with the best equipment an archer can wish for. I have been using the same equipment for my Olympic trials as well. I will always be grateful to them for showing faith in me as an athlete, and I hope they keep supporting aspiring athletes like me in the future”.
“RF has contributed in a major way to our success,” adds Manoj. “The first time we came to Mumbai, they put us in the best hotel and me and my family felt on top of the world. If RF hadn’t supported us, I would have had to sell my assets to manage the expenses of Ridhi’s career. All the best equipment available for archers has been provided to us by RF. The staff at the Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital has constantly monitored Ridhi and her progress over the last 2 years. The nutritionists, sports science experts and psychologists have constantly guided her and have helped Ridhi grow into a world class athlete.”
For Manoj, Ridhi’s development as an archer has been a single minded quest since she was born. A hobby weightlifter himself, Manoj was keen that his first born child pursue an individual sport where the outcome wasn’t decided by subjective scoring, such as boxing or wrestling. He identified shooting and archery as potential pursuits but shooting, Manoj reckoned, was going to be too expensive for a man of his limited means. There were no archery coaches in Karnal but an undeterred Manoj intently researched about the sport and took off to Gurugram, on the outskirts of Delhi, to learn himself how to be an archer.
As Ridhi turned eight, Manoj was ready to impart the knowledge he had acquired to his daughter, setting her off on the path to becoming an elite athlete. She would practice with a bow-and-arrow made from bamboo but Manoj remembers Ridhi making an instant connection with the sport. In age-group competitions such as the mini sub-junior nationals or the national school championships, Ridhi would inevitably be the among the youngest archers in the field. She rarely ended a competition without success, travelling across the country to return home with medals from competitions across the country in Vijayawada, Goa, Ranchi, Tirupati, Bhubaneswar, Indore and Raipur.
Now, as she finds her feet at the senior level and experiences the rarefied air of competition around the world, Manoj remains an ever watchful presence, ensuring Ridhi remains focused on the challenges that lie ahead.
“Her biggest strength is her never say die attitude, when someone tells her she can’t achieve something, then she definitely will,” says Manoj. “During the Asia Cup, India were losing 5-1 vs Philippines. The match seemed like it was all but over. Ridhi encouraged her colleagues and got her seniors to actually believe in her. She ended up scoring the most points in the next four rounds and India drew 5-5 and won the tie-breaker.”
“However, due to her young age, she is still very naïve,” he adds, as a note of caution. “She believes anyone and everyone easily. Ridhi is very passionate and takes losses to heart. It takes her a while to get over losses in previous competitions. She tends to get upset very early.”
Although Ridhi already has a glittering CV, she recognises how fine the margins are in the sport she pursues. She is determined to avoid days like the semi-final of the Khelo India Games in Guwahati in January, when she lost her focus on the second arrow in the sudden death shootout after the scores had ended tied, leaving Ridhi with a bronze medal. International competitions have been an eye opener, especially as she has inevitably been the youngest archer in the field. Currently, Ridhi is training at the Army Sports Institute in Pune, where she has targeted improving her score at every session she participates in.
“If I don’t end up matching my own expectations, I make a note in my diary as to why things turned out a certain way,” she says. “The qualifying trials for the Olympics have been suspended indefinitely, but that is very much my focus. I want to make it to the top three in the country and represent India at the Olympics.”
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