Imagine making your international debut in an individual sport and playing 34 matches in a year representing your country. Now imagine winning 32 of those matches along with a World Championships title just eight months down the line. Quite a dream, isn’t it?
Well, living the exact same dream is Tamil Nadu’s para-shuttler Manisha Ramadass.
Just 17-year-old, Ramadass bagged the gold medal in the Women’s Singles SU5 category at the recently concluded Para-Badminton World Championships in Tokyo. To go with it, the youngster also picked up a bronze in Women’s Doubles SL3-SU5 alongside Mandeep Kaur.
“I do not have any words to describe how I am playing. It was a dream to just play in the World Championships when I made my debut in March this year. To be crowned the World Champion is not something I had expected in my wildest dreams,” Manisha said in a conversation with The Bridge.
Ramadass was born as a forceps baby. She quickly points at the scar on her face to reveal the same with a wry smile.
“It means that my mother’s labor was not progressing, so the doctors had to assist her externally to bring me into this world. From what I know, I had to be pulled by my shoulder while I was being born,” she explained.
“Forceps babies usually have such marks on the face or on the scalp. While it disappears for most, it did not for me,” she added.
The impact of this natal complication meant that Manisha Ramadass was born with an impediment in her right hand. She underwent three surgeries in the hope to get better, but to no avail.
“If you look, my right hand is a lot leaner compared to my left hand. It means that I can generate only forty or fifty percent of the power it should ideally generate,” she said.
Ramadass was a sports-loving child since the beginning. Born to a civil contractor father and a homemaker mother, she played quite a lot of sports including football when she was growing up.
But, seven years ago, it was the Indian badminton icon Saina Nehwal, who drew Manisha to the sport she currently excels in.
“My school teachers approached my parents stating I am good at a lot of sports. They should let me focus on it when I was in fifth grade. It was then that I decided to spend my energy on badminton, simply because I am a huge Saina Nehwal fan,” she said.
“I have now met all the Indian players, but not Saina Nehwal. God knows when I will get to meet her,” she added with a laugh.
Manisha’s introduction to badminton though was via the able-bodied section. She competed in able-bodied tournaments for four years with very little success every now and then at some district or state-level meets.
While she made a name for herself in the local circuit as someone to be watched out for, the disability in her right hand prevented her from making it big at a higher level. Though Manisha holds the racquet with the left hand, the non-playing hand becomes crucial in generating power for shots and maintaining body balance. This simply was not happening for her.
It was at this point, during one of the Tamil Nadu state tournaments that someone suggested her coach Ramkumar to introduce her to para-badminton.
“It was during a state tournament in 2019 that I first came across the word para-badminton after someone suggested it to my coach. I played my first tournament in the para-athletes section in November that year,” the shuttler said.
Manisha, who has been training with Ramkumar since the day she took up badminton seven years ago, has no intention of giving up her able-bodied dreams anytime soon.
“I have been training with able-bodied players all my life. In my academy, I am the only para-athlete. I want to balance my energies on both able-bodied and para events,” she said.
Much like the 2022 Junior Badminton World Championships medallist Sankar Muthusamy who broke into the limelight from a place far away from where a majority of Indian badminton is concentrated, Manisha Ramadass too has followed the same path.
In fact, Ramadass has never attended any national camp so far.
“We were supposed to have a camp before the World Championships, but it got cancelled. I have been training alone in my academy with Ramkumar sir in Thiruvallur (Chennai) as always,” she revealed.
Things have changed quite a bit for Manisha Ramadass since her return from Tokyo with two medals. She is not only busy giving interviews but was also invited by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin for a meeting.
“The CM congratulated me and said they would help me out in my future tournaments financially,” an elated Manisha said.
The teenager is also relieved at how happy and proud her family is of her achievements.
“My parents have been my biggest cheerleaders. They are so happy that I have returned with a medal in Tokyo,” she giggled.
“My father is a former district-level ball badminton player. He knows what it takes to succeed in sports. Before putting me in badminton he just asked me if I will give my best. I had to promise him that I will give it my all and that allowing me to play would not just be a waste of money. It has been seven years since then. I am happy that I could keep that promise and it was not all a waste,” Manisha signed off.