Elavenil Valarivan is only 19, but she frays little nerves. The Shooting World Cup would begin in four days, but she hardly betrays any tension, as she prances around the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range with a beaming smiling. Of course, she has been in the circuit for a while, is considered one of the most promising Air-rifle shooters in the country, and has begun winning medals, but for a teenager to exude such lightness before a major tournament speaks oodles of her composure.
Why not? For, medals and accolades have been piling up in a tizzy. Just last year, she shot a world record score in the qualifications and bagged a gold in the Sydney World Cup, besides making her senior debut at the Asian Games. The 2017 national champion has rapidly made strides in a discipline where there are already half a dozen world-class shooters. Her recent exploits have seen her earmarked as an Olympic-medal prospect.
None of these weigh on her mind, in fact she's unreally relaxed. "I just think about sleep before my competition. My goal is to wrap up the event as soon as possible and hit the bed. Pressure doesn't get into me," says Elavenil, stressing she's immune to competitive pressure.
With Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela having already earned two Games quota spots, Elavenil wouldn't be under pressure. Her focus would be more on hitting the top scores and adding another medal to her kitty, which could improve her chances of staying in contention for a berth in the Tokyo Games.
For a girl who embraced the game just seven years ago, she has made rapid strides into entering the collective consciousness of the shooting fraternity. Born in Puducherry and raised in Ahmedabad, she stumbled into the lures of shooting quite accidentally. A student of her father, who's a scientist, once gave her a rifle. She knew nothing about the sport until then, but was soon left captivated. Thereafter, she began to train rigorously, leaving home daily at 4 am to reach the range,which's 30-odd km from her home in Maninagar. She had to juggle sport with school and tuition, and by the she reached home, at 9 pm, she was fully drained.
Then came the big career-call. "After class 10, I decided to focus either on my studies or shooting. My paternal grandparents were little hesitant but my dad stood his ground and ensured I pursued my passion," the BA English literature student said.
But it's fair enough to say the decision stood vindicated. She entered the national team in 2016 and won the nationals the very next year. Last March, she clinched a world record score of 631.4 in the qualification in Sydney, which was better than the then senior record of 629.5. She won her share of admirers too. "I was at the mall and a young boy walked up to me and said 'you're the same girl with the big gun on TV yesterday, no? I would like to have your autograph.'"
Bonded to the roots
Despite spending all her life in Ahmedabad she hasn't lost touch to her roots back in Tamil Nadu. Elavenil still likes to introduce herself as a Tamil settled in Ahmedabad. She picked up reading and writing in Tamil at the weekly free lessons provided by house-makers in her colony. There is a Tamil-only rule at home which she adheres to.
She also sports a pair of traditional South Indian gold jhumkis at all her competitions. ""At Sydney, I received more compliments for my earrings than shooting. People came up to me and said they were really pretty and where one could get them from. The next time I wore a different design, my dad said, 'stick to the old ones, it's part of your style. I love the Tamil traditions and culture. Even though I was brought up elsewhere I like to hold them close, " she said.
But for all the typically teenage-girl talks and demeanour, Elavenil has a wise head on young shoulders. Sample this: "Shooting cannot bring you happiness all the time. There are moments when you don't understand what's going wrong. It's very technical and psychological," she said.
In times like these, she takes refuge in music and painting. She unwinds listening to Ilaiyaraaja ballads and strumming her guitar. She reasons: "If you don't have other passions apart from the sport, you will go crazy. Shooting is my profession and when I go home I don't like to talk about it. I would rather talk about us (family) than my sport."
She, though, has one grouse. Her competitors have begun to take her seriously too. "Earlier, at the range, people would walk up to me and chit chat but now they see me with respect. They're hesitant, which makes me a little uncomfortable," she said. All of these would, of course, matter little when she has the big gun in her hand.