India’s Vishwaraj ‘Wish’ Jadeja has been battling the odds to keep his speedskating dream alive
While in Copenhagen, Jadeja worked odd jobs, like cleaning dishes and delivering newspapers, to support himself
A year before the Olympic Winter Games in 2018, Vishwaraj Jadeja was training hard when he slammed into the ice. He didn’t think much of the pain, for the speed ice skater had training to attend to. A month later, he crashed again and, this time, he had cracked his patella, dislocated his ribs in two places and suffered tissue damage in his lower back, which put paid to his Olympic dream. He was away from competitive action for the next 18 months.
A lot was at stake then, as the 34-year-old lined up at the start line of the Winter World Masters Games in Innsbruck, Austria, last month. Coming home with a medal at the world stage was top priority for Jadeja and as he picked up silver in his first race, the 3 km sprint, the relief on his face was apparent. By the end of the three days, he had added two more silvers in the 5 km and 10 km categories and a bronze in the 1 km to his kitty.
“Your first race of the season is always nerve-wracking, says Jadeja. I had managed a podium in December during a club event, but this was the world stage. After the first medal, my inbox was spammed with congratulatory messages, which gave me a lot of motivation for the other races,” he says.
From the moment he set his mind to bringing laurels for India as a speed ice skater, Jadeja has faced every adversity along the way with a smile. His journey on the ice began in his early twenties when he decided to transition from roller skates to ice skating, since it gave him a shot at Olympic glory, unlike the other. His career in computer engineering took a backseat as he applied to study in Europe to pursue ice skating, given the lack of training facilities for the sport in India. There was resistance from my family. There still is. But if you want to pursue something, you have to find a way. I took an education loan, moved to Denmark in 2008 and skated on ice for the first time in my life, he says.
While in Copenhagen, Jadeja worked odd jobs, like cleaning dishes and delivering newspapers, to support himself. Though still mastering the ice, he would go to local competitions. At one such event, his story was picked up by a Dutch journalist who introduced Jadeja to Wim Nieuwenhuizen, who became his coach and guiding light.
By 2011, he had set up base in Utrecht in the Netherlands. Wim just wants to know how motivated you are. My job is to simply give him what he asks of me, says Jadeja. For the skater, training in the summer months involves close to 10,000 km of cycling, plyometrics, power training and hill running. June onwards, though, begins a grinding regime on ice with his team, Schaatsteam Wim Nieuwenhuizen. Amid all the training, Jadeja also has to connect with potential sponsors to sustain his dream.
“At times, I feel like I’m fighting a war with a stick and the opposition has a tank and my boss asks me why I’m losing. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done off the ice as well. The ice skating culture is big in Holland and being here has helped me keep my sanity intact. So you put everything else behind you and fight another day,” he says.
In January 2019, Jadeja took time off from his rigourous training for another project, this time in the mountains. In the stunning winter setting of Ladakh, he undertook the challenge of ice skating the 5 km distance on the frozen Tso Moriri lake, located at an altitude of over 4,500 metres. It set the tone for the gruelling preps for the World Masters. In the run-up to the races, Nieuwenhuizen organised an altitude training camp in the mountains to simulate the conditions they would face in Innsbruck; more so, for the open ice track than the indoor training facility back home.
“The elements come into play here, since the ice condition keeps changing. Before my last two events at the World Masters, it started snowing. There were people shovelling snow off the track during the 1 km, but I was still soaked to the bone and cold, and slightly disappointed with the bronze,” he says.
Before the start of the 10 km, too, Jadeja had to deal with rain.
“It was really frustrating since the ice was reacting very differently, but finishing second in that race and with four medals in all, I thought it couldn’t get any better,” he says.
As he gears up for the Asian Winter Games (2021) and the Winter Olympics (2022), Jadeja will be looking for sponsors yet again to aid his efforts. The months ahead will be crucial. He hopes his phone calls get him some fruitful meetings during his visits to India.
“I think adversity is an extra motivation factor for me. The harder it is, the harder I’ll fight,” he says.