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Young or old, sports can rightly be called the ‘heartbeat’ of any nation. And for us Indians, the past few months have been rather exciting. After all, the string of laurels that we have garnered at the global level is nothing short of incredible. But not many understand that it isn’t just physical training that matters when it comes to athletic training. The focus must be on injury prevention, as well as recovery and rehabilitation of muscles that aren’t in proper working condition.
Unfortunately, there are only a handful who understand these important aspects. Former tennis player and sports physiotherapist Paridhi Ojha is one of them. She’s someone who eats, breathes, and sleeps sports, and feels the passion in every vein. A few years ago, a knee injury crushed her dreams to move ahead in professional tennis, but she didn’t let that deter her from fulfilling her dreams in the world of sports.
In a candid chat with Health Shots, Ojha speaks about her early inclination towards sports, how injury prevention is critical for athletes, and how mental health is a critical aspect of any sporting career.
Ojha shares that it was early on that she began skating, since it was mandatory for students in her school to pursue it. She was exposed to all kinds of sports as a young girl, and it is this very reason that her interest grew.
At the same time, her parents were a huge influence on her. Although she lost her father at a young age, her mother was a huge pillar of support (and a national badminton player herself).
“My parents wanted me to be involved in a physical activity, where I could channelise my energy and at the same time, learn personality skills too. So, I picked up skating and also did it at the national level. But after a point, skating was not available at school. We had to choose an individual sport, which would later be taken up professionally. I went and tried tennis because that was something I had never dabbled with,” says Ojha.
She played tennis a few times every week, and also enrolled herself into an academy. Within a year, Ojha was getting better at her game. She became a part of the school team, and began participating in tournaments all over the world. Her height was also an advantage, and her skill set was a perfect match! Although she tasted success, it didn’t come easy!
“As a school student, it isn’t easy to be available all the time, plus it’s also pretty expensive. There were several struggles, because going to every tournament means there’s a lot of money you have to spend, and at that point, I had no sponsorships. For four years, I was studying from home. My sponsorship came in when I was a part of the Delhi State Team, and won a gold medal. But my mother was with me, in every way, throughout this journey,” shares Ojha.
It was in class 10 that Ojha suffered a massive knee injury, and unfortunately, there was no sports doctor who could understand her psyche. Most of them suggested that surgery was the only solution, but she wasn’t prepared for it.
“It took me seven months to understand that it’s going to take a while to heal the injury. It was a classic case of overuse, because I had played 36 tournaments in one year. That’s a lot for any athlete. Fortunately, I had my sponsorship from Yonex, and they were patient. But my body was not the same, I was only 70% back to what I originally was. So, I wasn’t motivated enough to continue playing professional tennis,” says Ojha.
That’s when she decided to take the plunge into sports medicine, and find a solution for something that she had dealt with personally. Ojha completed her bachelor’s and master’s in sports medicine, and is today a successful sports physiotherapist. She has been working closely with athletes for over six years now.
Sharing more about her work, Ojha adds, “My approach is more towards prevention. Every time there is a niggle or injury, people think that is the time you must go to a physiotherapist. Even during training, you should be able to ask for a physiotherapist’s support. I work on injury prevention, a lot of recovery and rehab work like muscle imbalance or helping athletes come back to normal, in case of any issue. My work includes a lot of screening, which is why it is essential to understand the biomechanics and act accordingly. It is important not to reach that point that your body has to remind you to go for physiotherapy or something of that sort.”
While physical training is essential for an athlete, so is mental strength. The candid confession of Simone Biles during the Tokyo Olympics 2020 did receive mixed reactions, but also opened up a can of worms. It highlighted how mental health must not be detached from physical health. Ojha, who personally faced hardships, believes that awareness is essential, and must be a part of training too.
“Anxiety in athletes can come up in several ways, sometimes when you are unprepared or even under pressure. There’s so much pressure around how one is going to perform. Although things are more open today, there needs to be greater awareness. And athletes must have that safe space to discuss everything with their psychologists, instead of only doing it at breaking point. It will really help them in their game too,” concludes Ojha.