Fourteen-year-old Esha Singh won a gold in the Asian Shooting Championships in November 2019. The pistol shooter from Hyderabad had displayed great form and bettered India’s best – Heena Sidhu and Manu Bhaker – to win three gold medals at the 62nd National Shooting Championships. Born to a Racer father, Esha also won the Women’s, Youth Women’s and Junior Women’s 10m Air Pistol competitions. With 242.2 points, the teenage shooter proved that she is here to slay. Another gold came at 13th South Asian Games 2019, in Nepal for her.
Esha’s childhood was spent among bikes, grease and cars as her father Sachin Singh would compete in various rallies. She tried go-carting initially. She did not find it exciting and went to a shooting range for the first time at the age of nine. An immediate liking was established. She had her father’s support too. For him, winning shooting crowns is like winning a rally. Her father left rallying to support and further train her. Esha in a candid chat with SheThePeople.TV. Some edited excerpts.
Describe your childhood and why you never followed your father’s footsteps?
My dad was a Racer, growing up I also wanted to be in sports and have a collection of trophies like him. He was very supportive and he used to take me to classes every day after school.
I started with badminton because back then people in Hyderabad were crazy about teaching their kids badminton and tennis. Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal had won Olympic medals. I played badminton for two years and then I got bored and tried tennis followed by skating for about a year. I left that too. On a Sunday, I woke up early and I saw that my dad was getting ready to go somewhere, so I told him that I wanted to go with him, and he agreed. I had no idea where we were going. On the way, he told me that we were going to see my uncle shooting at the range in Gachibowli stadium. I got really excited. That’s the first time I saw the shooting range, then I told my dad I wanted to try it once.
I didn’t have to please my dad at all because he was as excited as I was to try a new sport. My uncle plays the Skeet so I held the rifle and almost fell down. I was just nine years old. We went to the armoury and tried the air rifle which I also failed, then I held the pistol. This was my game I thought, so I decided to go with the air pistol. We got to know that you get the best training in Pune at Gun for Glory academy by Gagan Narang. I trained there for 10 days. Later, they also opened an academy in Hyderabad. I completed the rest of the course there and the coach I trained with kept in touch with me all the time.
My uncle plays the Skeet so I held the rifle and almost fell down. I was just nine years old.
Seeing Gagan sir’s posters all over the academy inspired me a lot to win an Olympic medal. I had the state championship in a couple of months and I won my first ever medal (gold) and it motivated me so much so that I am here competing at the international level now.
What were the challenges you overcame before making it big?
At first, there was no other range except the one in Gachibowli, which is an hour’s drive from my house so my dad built a paper target range at home. That was the only way I could train, but later when various academies opened up in Hyderabad my training kick-started.
Winning gold in the second edition of the Khelo India Youth Games, three gold medals at Asian Shooting Championship, how did these boost your confidence?
It felt really good to get the gold at the Asian Shooting Championship, to see our flag go up and the national anthem play. Now, I am concentrating on shooting consistently, and my aim is better.
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Since you come from a traditional background, did you face any criticism and discouragement from society? If yes, how do you manage to overcome those?
No, my family encouraged and supported me a lot. My colony did a grand welcome for me when I was back from the Asian championship. I couldn’t ask for more! I am extremely grateful!
How did your life change after being recognised internationally?
It didn’t change much. I like not thinking too much about such things. I am still that little girl inside.
What did you learn from the industrial legends who competed with/against you? How can Indian shooters be inspired by them?
I have been inspired by a lot of Indian and international shooters. Besides, my aim is to get better at my game because when you play an individual sport no one can stop you!
How is the shooting scene in India for women? Why isn’t it a popular sport among women in your state?
There is no gender discrimination in shooting, but compared to when I started and now, I can see how much the sport has grown in my state. There is a drastic change in the graph; the stadium is so crowded during competitions.
My goal is to get a gold in the Olympics, but I keep a target on every competition I participate in.
Your message to young girls who dare to be different and want to go against the societal barriers?
You are stronger than you think, and if you want to achieve something you have to work hard and be bold. You have to believe in yourself!
What drives you towards the sport? What does it mean to you?
Sports is my first priority, always!
Share your strategies and insights before a game. What do you think before a match? Do you need to study an opponent’s mind/strategies before a game?
I always tell myself that I can do this. I believe in myself and I know I deserve to be here. I have learnt from my experiences that even if you don’t do good in a game, there’s always something to learn from your mistakes.
I have learnt from my experiences that even if you don’t do good in a game, there’s always something to learn from your mistakes.
Tell us about your biggest challenges?
It was during Khelo India games 2018, I had a stomach infection and I threw up whatever I ate so I did not eat anything for two days but still ranked first. Honestly, it was not easy, but I managed somehow. I also give equal time for studies and shooting.
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What has been the most touching moment in this journey so far?
Every time I won a gold and saw the Indian flag go up!
What do you think India lacks in terms of appreciating the culture of sports?
I think a little more support from the government, but I have seen a lot more encouragement and support in the last two years.
How sports, in general, has liberated women in any area — rural/urban? Do women from your state now seek to take it up professionally?
I do see a lot of girls taking up sports and it feels really good when young shooters come up to me and say I am their inspiration.
Your advice to aspirant girls in the state.
Whatever you do in life give your best at it!