MiD DAY meets with the Pandit family which boasts of not one, but three award-winning shooters in Ashok Pandit, son Ronak and daughter-in-law Heena Sidhu
Ordinarily one would expect the demands of marriage to have an effect on the form of a newly-wed athlete, especially in a sport as onerous as shooting. In Heena Sidhu’s case, however, marriage has only made her a better shooter — the latest example of this being Heena’s recent first-place finish above World Cup gold medallist Rahi Sarnobat in the women’s air pistol event at the ongoing National shooting selection trials in New Delhi.
Goldfingers: Ashok Pandit (left) with his son Ronak and daughter-in-law Heena Sidhu at Worli's Maharashtra Rifle Association shooting range before they left for the shooting trials in New Delhi. Pic/Atul Kamble
Perhaps, the 24-year-old’s marriage last year (February, 2013) into the renowned Pandit family — comprising husband, Melbourne Commonwealth Games gold medallist Ronak Pandit, who also doubles up as her coach, and father-in-law, Arjuna award-winning shooter Ashok Pandit — has helped. At the ongoing selection trials, Ronak finished ninth in the 25m air pistol event while Ashok is participating in the centrefire pistol event.
Heena’s stature as a good shooter had been cemented at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi where she clinched the 10m air pistol (team) gold and a silver in the 10m air pistol individual event. But Heena scaled unprecedented heights in November by winning India’s first gold medal in the pistol category at the prestigious World Cup Final in Munich. The win took Heena to the third spot in the world 10m air pistol rankings.
While marriage spurred Heena on to bigger things, it has also sparked Ronak’s successful comeback to the sport after a hiatus of three years. The shooter won two gold medals (25m rapid fire and free pistol) and two silver medals (standard pistol and centre pistol) at the state shooting championships in October last year. Recollecting his decision to return to the sport, Ronak says, “For three years, I hadn’t touched a gun.
But while teaching Heena, I understood a few things myself and noticed that the hunger to compete was still there. So I took up shooting again. My biggest challenge this year will be to balance my own shooting career with trying to help and coach Heena.” The couple is in fact, teaching each other.
“He’s actually teaching me how to be a fighter and to stand up for yourself,” says Heena, who is a qualified dentist, and wants to pursue a degree in fine arts. “She’s teaching me the value of discipline,” says Ronak, as he goes on to explain: “I’m rather chilled-out. If I’m unable to train from 1 to 3pm, I’ll train from 4 to 6. But Heena is very particular. If she’s supposed to train from 9am to 12pm, she has to train during that time only.”
Just as the husband-wife discussion gets animated, senior shooter Ashok makes a point. “The point is how many hours you train for. How does it matter whether you train from 9 to 12 or 10 to 1,” says Ashok. Not many know that Ronak and Heena started off by rubbing each other the wrong way before love happened.
“We met back in 2008 at a competition in Indore, but got off on the wrong foot as we both thought we were big-shots. But later, when we started training under the same coach, we understood each other better,” says Ronak. With the Incheon Asian Games and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games approaching, all else has taken a backseat for the couple, which trains together at the shooting range for up to eight hours daily.
In fact, even when the couple are not shooting, they spend most of their time discussing the sport with Ashok (60), a four-time CWG gold medal winner and Shiv Chhatrapati awardee. “We discuss everything, from rule changes to the technical aspects and even the politics of the sport. I understand their problems well as I’ve played at the highest level too. My only advice to both of them is train seriously and not to waste any time,” Ashok signs off.