Shireen Limaye: "Basketball is in my genes"
An interview with one of the most remarkable athletes of India, Shireen Limaye.
It’s a rare honour for any athlete to represent their country in any sport. For an overpopulated country like India where sports aren’t always seen as the most lucrative careers, it’s even rarer for anyone to earn that honour. A majority of our population isn’t well off and they see sports as a ticket to find their place in life. So on one had you have intense competition from your fellow country fellows to crack the team and on the other hand the facilities to attain such a status are even sparser.
It’s hard enough to get to the level where you represent your country in one sport. It’s amazing to do so in two. And to do so in three is a one in a million case. Leaving aside track events and swimming where the separate events are homogenous, playing three sports at a high enough level to represent your country is very remarkable.
Shireen Vijay Limaye is a triple threat athlete. She has represented India in the Commonwealth games in Netball. She was also ranked 2nd in India in the under-21 category in Snooker.
What those two sports have lost, basketball has gained. She made her debut on the senior national basketball team in 2011 and right now she’s completely committed to this game.
Here’s a look at Shireen and her life:
Q Your brother Animish also plays basketball. So who wins in a game of 1 on 1 between you two?
Shireen: Obviously he wins. He is 6”4 and can dunk easily. He is too strong to defend. I can win only if he gives me some handicap. Like a 25-0 start and the game ends up on 30 points (smiles).
Q About you representing India in multiple sports, I imagine this is how the conversation went:
“Congrats! You’ve been invited to represent your country in netball!”
“Thanks, it’s a great honour. But I have to go play basketball for India.”
“About the snooker team…”
“Again, I’m honoured, but basketball comes first for me.”
Not many people have been in that place. What was the deciding factor which tipped the scale in favour of basketball for you?
Shireen: All the games which I’ve played, be it snooker and billiards, netball, roller skating or basketball, I love them all. I’ve always loved basketball the most. I think basketball is in my genes. My mother was a national player and she’s a coach now. She used to take me to the court since I was a few months old. Even my brother. So we’ve both been playing basketball since our childhood. I never stopped playing basketball even while I was playing other sports.
Q Do you see yourself being a dual/triple sport athlete in the future? Maybe a little snooker after 20 years or so when you retire from basketball?
Shireen: Definitely. I would like to continue playing snooker and billiards. Right now I don’t have enough time to practice and play netball or cue sports, because we have tight basketball schedules. When I will get time and I will think that I can do justice to those games, definitely I would like to continue playing them. I can start playing snooker and billiards at any age. Even today I go to practice snooker whenever I’m in Pune.
Q Have you tried swimming, after your father?
Shireen: Yes. I am a good swimmer. I love swimming, but of course I didn’t pursuit it as a competitive sport like my father.
Q Playing for India from such a young age, it must have involved a lot of travel. Even more so because the load was threefold for you with basketball, snooker and netball. What was it like being on the move so much as a young kid?
Shireen: I’ve been travelling since my childhood. My mother, as she was a player, she used to carry me with her for tournaments. But I started travelling alone when I was 10 years old. The first Under-13 state championship I played in, I was 10 years old. For that I went to Mumbai for 5-6 days. It was tough to stay away from my home and family. But I managed it. I am blessed with a very, very supportive and loving family. They made it easy for me.
My parents managed to come and stay at least for a few days, wherever and whichever game I may be playing in India. To cheer me and take care of me. For snooker and billiards nationals, my mother came with me and was with me for the entire period. Even most of the coaches I got were very caring towards me as I was the youngest most of the time. I am thankful towards them.
Q An article said that you’re into rock music. Another mentioned you like Kathak. Do you dance Kathatk?
Shireen: Really? That means that I love rock music and I listen to it a lot. Haha. I want to learn guitar. Kathak, I used to do. I gave a first exam of Kathak and passed with A+ grade. My guru wanted me to choose Kathak or basketball. I chose basketball (smiles).
Q The first time you played netball was with you mother in a senior state championship. Were you teammates at that point?
Shireen: My mother has played many nationals in netball. In 2001-2003 national games of netball, she represented Maharashtra. Yes, the first time, I played with my mother, even she explained the game to me and we were teammates for Pune. Not only netball, we played basketball together too till 2008. We used to represent our club PYC in senior district championship together. The funniest and most awesome thing was that the names of my mom, me and my brother were in the Pune newspapers on the same day in basketball news. That was fun.
Q I’ve been trying to pin down how tall are you exactly. Since you’ve been playing from such a young age, your height is listed different in different sources. The tallest being 6”2. Have you grown taller than that now?
Shireen: No I am not 6 ft tall. In that article other 3 girls were 6 ft tall. My height is 5”11.
Q Being a versatile athlete in different sports, how do aspects of your other pursuits help you in basketball? For instance being a snooker player, does it translate to working on bank shots in basketball?
Shireen: Snooker and Billiards need a lot of concentration; you have to have a game plan. You have to stand patiently a lot of the time and await your turn to play. This mental fitness part helped me in basketball and netball. And the physical fitness and aggression of basketball made me play snooker better.
Q You were the ‘Rebound Ace’ in the Asian U-16 Championships in Pune. Would you say rebounding is the part of your game which stands out the most?
Shireen: I never tried to specialize in being a rebounder, rather in all my international tournaments I had to play out on the perimeter on zone defense.
Since childhood I’ve been playing with and against boys. Boys are naturally stronger. They play an aggressive game. I am so glad that my club senior boys always let me play with them. It helped me to become a better player. May be the rebounding part in my game has developed well due to this.
Q How does a typical day for you look like?
Shireen: If I am at home, I wake up around 7, have a glass of milk and go to gym. Come back home for breakfast and bath, go for my tuitions or study at home. After lunch, sometimes I go to play snooker or watch TV, play with my dog, read books, and listen to music. Then again I have a glass of milk and some snacks at around 5 pm and go to the basketball court. There I practice doing whatever my coach tells me to do. Around 8.30pm I come back home, have dinner, spend time with my father and mother and hit the bed around 10.30 pm.
Q Which is your favourite NBA/WNBA team and player, among current players?
Shireen: Actually I love the game of so many NBA players. Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant etc. I followed the Lakers, Mavericks, Heat and Magic. But I have to tell you that I hardly follow NBA now a days, because mostly I am roaming for the camps or tournaments and we hardly have the TV facility. Also, the matches are shown at odd times, making it difficult to follow.
My favorite player is Candace Parker of WNBA. There are only two WNBA players they can dunk and she is one of them.
Q Through your career, which have been the most memorable moments for you thus far?
Shireen: Actually all the nationals and international tournaments were memorable moments for me. Like my first International tournament in 2009. Last year, 2011 when I was the captain of the under 16 Indian team, the under-18 3 on 3 world championship, getting selected in the senior Indian team , playing William Jones Invitational tournament (4 international tournaments in one year) was quite an experience. My first snooker nationals, when I won the silver medal in the Under 21 age group and the legend Geet Sethi handed over the trophy to me. Also CWG Delhi 2010, I will never forget that experience.
But, getting the Rebound Ace Trophy in the Under 16 Asian Championship in Pune has been the most memorable moment in my life up till now. Because that prize came unexpectedly.
For entire that tournament I didn’t play a single match in the first five. Rather, I still remember we were playing our first match against Philippines. After the first quarter, coach told me to stand up from the bench and told me to run behind the bench. I was running for almost 2 quarters behind the bench waiting to get in the court (smiles). I played last 8 minutes of that match. On the last day our team was sitting and watching the prize distribution ceremony and Harish Sharma sir came and told me “Shireen wear your shoes and come down”. Even till then I had no idea. And then they announced the names of individual prizes. I was declared a Rebound Ace. Whohhhhh! What a moment that was! And that too in front of all my loved ones and my friends in my home town. That was indeed an unforgettable moment for me to receive such an award. I was the only Indian to receive one, and the other two were Chinese and Japanese.
Q About competition from international teams, what about their teams stands distinct the most from our teams?
Shireen: Their physical and mental fitness.
Q What are you planning to study now?
Shireen: Right now I am studying in 11th std with NIOS. Its National Institute of Open Schooling. After 12th std I would like to graduate in sports psychology.
In India, daughters aren’t often pushed to the forefront of athletic pursuits. Here’s someone who has shattered that convention on three different levels. And she’s just getting started.
(Special thanks to Shireen’s mother, Suvarna Limaye for her generous help in collecting information and in designing the poster above)