Shekhar Kumar Pandey was the gold medalist in men’s pole vault at the last month’s domestic track and field event in Patiala. He is the son of a small-time farmer from the district of Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh. Shekhar's success is made more beautiful by the fact that the ambitious 21-year-old won his medal despite a lack of access to modern facilities.
“Since I couldn’t do training drills with equipment including pole due to pandemic, I suffered blisters on my hands on my way to winning gold medal at National Inter State Athletics Championships held in Patiala from June 25 to 29. I could have done better than 4.80 meters that fetched me gold because of the blisters on hands,” recalls Shekhar Kumar Pandey.
The Khelo India silver medalist and trainee of the National Pole Vault Academy (NPVA), run by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) from New Delhi’s iconic Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, has been unable to train properly since March. The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic ensured that all facilities in New Delhi were shut down, which left Shekhar in a difficult position.
According to Shekhar Kumar Pandey, he is apprehensive about his future as he hasn’t got any information on when will SAI reopen training for athletes of the NPVA. The upcoming jumper explained exactly why he needs these facilities to open really soon. The UP man said:
“Pole vault is very technical event. Without a good jumping pit and modern facility, it is not possible to train at anywhere."
How Shekhar Kymar Pandey got attracted to good facilities
It is rather curious to observe how a simple boy from a village, who had no opportunity or access to good facilities, got attracted to pole vaulting. Out of all the sports he could have been interested in, he chose pole vaulting - a game which is considered to be a highly technical event.
In 2015, Shekhar saw athletes competing in a pole vault event during a district school meet in Mirzapur and decided to take part as he found the event exciting.
“I was familiar with jumping with bamboo poles. I have been crossing small rivulets with bamboo poles in a village. When I saw students competing in the pole vault event at the district athletics meet, I was excited and wanted to give it a try. To my surprise I won a silver medal without any training. I was happy and wanted to continue,” he said of landing into the sports world.
In order to develop his game, he had to bicycle 60 km every day from his village to Varanasi’s sports stadium and back home.
“The stadium never had good facilities for pole vaulters so I practiced with ordinary high jump mats. Sometimes I got injured,” he recalled.
Seeing Shekhar Kumar Pandey’s enthusiasm a former national athlete and coach named Rajinder Singh from Varanasi advised him to shift to Delhi as he could train under national pole vault coach PC Tyagi.
Despite not having adequate financial resources, Shekhar Kumar Pandey packed his bags and reached New Delhi at the end of 2016.
“We pooled in resources to support Shekhar Kumar Pandey. He worked hard and made steady progress,” said PC Tyagi.
In 2018 December when National Pole Vault Academy was set up, Shekhar Kumar Pandey was among the first batch of five athletes, including one female, to join the project.
Even though the SAI-run academy didn’t have good equipment, Shekhar Kumar Pandey was satisfied with the coaching aspect of training and made steady progress. This ability to thrive under difficult challenges speaks volumes of his talent.
The Uttar Pradesh pole vaulter started the 2017 season with a 4.10m winning silver at the National School Games. Later in the same year he improved to 4.40m at the National Youth Athletics Championships.
In the 2018 season, he won silver with 4.50m at the National Youth Athletics Championships. In the same year at the National Junior Athletics Championships he scaled 4.70m to win silver.
In 2019 he further improved to 4.90m and won silver at the Khelo India Games and received INR 10,000 as financial assistance under the SAI scheme. But the pandemic halted his progress in 2020.
“The national academy in new Delhi was closed twice in 2020 due to the pandemic. The training started in November 2020 but was closed again in March 2021. I went home and could train properly,” he said.
The aspiring athlete is yet to hear anything from SAI about the reopening of the academy.
“I will wait for another week and if there is no communication from SAI will stay on my own in Delhi and train for the next domestic competition in August,” he added.