Jerlin Anika has proved her mettle in the Deaflympics and now the Indian shuttler wants to take the road less travelled, by switching to the able-bodied Olympics.
The country’s first-ever deaf athlete to win the Arjuna Award, Jerlin is looking to compete in the BWF world tour events from next year with an ambitious plan of qualifying for the Olympics.
The 18-year-old hearing-impaired shuttler from Madurai had claimed three gold medals at the Deaflympics in Caxias do Sul, Brazil in May, an achievement which earned her the country’s second most prestigious award in sport.
But Jerlin will not rest on her laurels. Instead, she will try her hands in the able-bodied category, and has already started participating in the All India state ranking tournaments.
“She has reached the highest stage in deaf category, so now she is looking to do well in the general Olympics. But it won’t be easy, the level of the game is very high there and she has to improve a lot overall,” J Jeya Ratchagen, Jerlin’s father, told PTI, with the help of an interpreter.
“So we are planning for some coaching in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia to have technical sessions from leading coaches internationally. Next Olympics we will try, but even if we can’t make it, we will continue to strive on.
“Last week, she was in Hyderabad to play in a BAI ranking tournament. So she will be participating in all national ranking tournaments going forward and then take it step by step, maybe by the 2028 Olympics she can qualify.”
While the Olympics is a long-term goal, Jerlin’s immediate target is to win medals at the 6th World Deaf Badminton Championships, to be held from July 10 to 25 next year in Para de Minas, Brazil.
“The world championship next year in Brazil is the short-term goal. Last time in 2019, she was identified by HCL foundation and they have been a big support and this time also she would look to return with medals,” said Jeya Ratchagen, who owns a small-scale business.
Jerlin, who has been training under P Saravanan at Bose Academy in Madurai from the age of 8, had won two silver and a bronze at Asia Pacific Badminton Championship in 2018 in Malaysia.
She was then enrolled as a sports scholar under HCL Foundation’s Power of One Project in 2019, which provided her with kits, nutritional and other logistic requirements.
The year 2019 turned out to be a big one as she returned with a gold, two silver and a bronze from the World Deaf Badminton Championship in China.
However, the icing on the cake was the Deaflympics, where she won a gold each in women’s singles, mixed doubles and mixed team event.
Asked about her reaction after being conferred with Arjuna, Jeya Ratchagen said: “She is happy for the achievement but the amount of happiness that she feels she can’t express it.
“As a father I can understand but she is not in any jubilant mood because this is how she has been brought up, she probably still doesn’t completely understand the steps that she has taken in her life.”
The award comprises a certificate and cash prize of Rs 15 lakh.
So does she plan to spend the money?
“She is still not mature enough to handle all the cash rewards, so I have bought a piece of land in her name and plan to build a house for her, so that her future is secured,” Jeya Ratchagen said.
“Also she will get a central government job once she completes her undergraduate degree. But her focus will always be badminton.”
Jerlin is currently pursuing BA Economics at Lady Doak College in Madurai.