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can you tell us about your background?
“I always wanted to represent India.” Aayush Yekhande, a former high school-level cricket and volleyball player – who began pursuing sports since an early age – always dreamt of making his country proud through his sporting excellence.
Coming from a middle-class family based in the Vile Parle suburb of Mumbai, continuing to play sports beyond the tenth grade level was an achievement in itself. In a year that is ‘supposed to be’ dedicated to studying alone, according to many, Aayush struck the perfect balance between his bat and books; something that many of his fellow localites failed to even think about, let alone follow.
After school, Aayush ended up in a college of his choice, where a realisation dawned upon him that contradicted with his childhood dream. “I was a state level player in volleyball and I had played the sport since my primary days. But I realised that my game wasn’t strong enough to take me to the national level, So I had to think of an alternative,” Aayush recalled.
What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
He rejected the omnipresent career option of engineering almost instantly. Acknowledging his love for sports, his mind was made up that a career in sports was the best option for him. Somewhere, deep down, Aayush hadn’t given up on his aspirations of representing the country, in fact, it was driving him towards his destiny.
After some research, Aayush decided to become a sports physiotherapist. Combining passion with hardwork, Aayush graduated as one of the top students from Ferguson college in Pune. “During my college days, I saw some of my seniors venture into sports physiotherapy, and few even got the chance to represent the country. That was the point I told myself, that if I work hard, I could do something similar,” said Aayush, revisiting the moments that served as yet another trigger to his dreams.
What was your career path after graduation?
Then, after serving under a local physiotherapist, Aayush got an opportunity to work with the ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) football team for a couple of years. He recalls his stint with the football club with a fair bit of nostalgia, as it set him on his way towards greater heights.
Seeking greener pastures, Aayush moved on from ONGC to Heal – a sports physiotherapy and medicine center in Mumbai. It was at Heal, that Aayush’s excellence earned him a chance to treat India’s Olympic-aspiring boxer, Vikas Krishan Yadav.
What was the turning point?
“Vikas was preparing for the 2015 World Championships, when JSW Sports, one of the investors in Heal, selected me to treat Vikas, who had sustained an elbow injury. I had to go to Patiala for three days for the treatment and then come back,” Aayush told Firstpost in an exclusive interview.
“When I was about to leave Patiala, JSW asked me to provide treatment to Seema Punia, who was also training at the National Institute of Sports there. She was sponsored by JSW Sports. At that time, she had been away from the game for over a month and had quite a bad shoulder injury,” he added.
Aayush’s stay in the Punjab city was extended as he continued to treat the discus thrower. “I remember, when I started treating her, she used to make 3-4 throws per day. But by the end of the month, she started making around 60 throws a day,” said Aayush, as he narrated the miraculous tale of Seema Punia’s recovery.
can you describe your job?
For Aayush, though, it was the beginning of something big.
There were challenges at every moment and lots of tears, blood and sweat was shed. Aayush, who by October had became a permanent physio at the Patiala center, had nine athletes under him.
“Since October, I was in Patiala where I had boxers, athletes, a javelin thrower and a discus thrower under me. My day used to start at 5:30 in the morning and go on till about 10 in the night. There was a breather of around an hour in between,” Aayush recalled.
Aayush’s job wasn’t just to nurse an injury, but everything from fitness, to strength and conditioning was his responsibility. He recalls being in constant conversation with the different coaches of the athletes in drawing the path ahead for them.
Amid the boxing mess, India just had one boxer who had qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics, six months prior to the event. Vikas Krishan Yadav, India’s top pugilist in the 75kg category was struggling to maintain intensity during his bouts, thus keeping him away from a berth in the Rio Olympics.
“Vikas lacked strength in his legs and due to that his movement in the third round was restricted. He solely relied on power and accuracy and that was a problem. We worked very hard on building his leg strength up before the final qualifying event for Rio Olympics and that paid dividends,” Aayush revealed.
Vikas Krishan Yadav did book an Olympic berth in the World Qualifying event in June and it was a moment to savour for Aayush as he accomplished his dream of representing his country at a major event.
What do you like about your job?
Today, he proudly shares a post after Vikas Krishan Yadav – who he helped to reach Rio – won his opening bout at the 2016 Olympics.
What shines through in that post is the Indian flag on Aayush’s tracksuit. He never expected this day to come as a child, but at the same time, never gave up on it as well. Aayush considers himself lucky to be a part of the staff that worked behind the scenes to get the Indian boxers in shape for Rio, but that was a position which was down to a lot more than just luck.
“I just kept doing my work everyday. At the camp, I treated every athlete that needed help, even if that athlete wasn’t under me officially. I saw it as an opportunity to learn and do something for sports. I would thank JSW Sports for giving me the opportunity and my parents for supporting me throughout,” Aayush told Firstpost.
Nothing serves a person more than following one’s passion and putting in the hardwork behind it. Aayush knows it all too well. His journey doesn’t end here though and there could be greater heights to scale in the future. Playing a big hand in helping India win an Olympic medal could be his next big prize.