Junior archer Sonia Thakur saw fire in the compartment of the train they were travelling from Delhi to Dehradun on Saturday for the 41st Junior National Archery Championship, but she did not panic. The teenager from Mandla near Jabalpur immediately alerted her seven other teammates and fellow passengers.
The advice of her father, a gym instructor, was ringing in her ears. “He had told me to not restrict the movement of other passengers and stay low on the floor (in case of fire). That’s what we did.” But she felt a pang shiver through her. “To see all our equipment burn, I felt like losing something precious. Like any kid, I cried a little as I lost my certificates and Aadhar card. But once we reached Dehradun, the coaches made sure that we only worry about getting a night of good sleep,” she narrated the ordeal to The Indian Express.
Soon after they were evacuated, she called her father Mohan and assured him she was safe. The next day, she ensured that her morale was intact despite the trauma. She first shot a score of 642 to emerge second in the ranking-round on Sunday. Later, she paired with Amit Thakur to claim a silver medal in the mixed team recurve event, after losing 2-6 in the final.
All this with a new bow, as the old one was consumed by fire. She has been practising with the same bow since 2018 at the Madhya Pradesh Archery Academy, and hence took time to adjust to the new one.
“Once the new equipment came, it took some time to set the bow and adjust the finger tab on the bow, apart from drawing the bow several times. Once that was done, I shot with a fresh mind and it helped me to keep my focus,” adds Thakur, who will compete in the individual medal rounds on Monday.
It was coach Ashok Yadav who first spotted the fire and alerted the team members and the passengers. Amit Kumar rushed to alert the Railway Police Staff personnel in the train and later held the sliding door on the other end to let the passengers rush out.
“It was our first completion post the lockdown. So most of us were talking and asking each other about their plans and training during the journey. When Ashok sir noticed the fire when returning from the washroom, he alerted us and told me to rush and call the RPF. Our coaches and some of us were helping the passengers. It meant that none of our equipment could be saved,” recounted Kumar, who shot a score of 665 to claim the bronze medal in the individual ranking round.
He too had to deal with getting accustomed to new equipment, which was arranged from Patiala and reached Dehradun after midnight. “We woke up at 2 am and sat to adjust the equipment till 6 a.m before having an extra hour of practice. I will remember this journey and tournament for these medals,” Kumar said.
Coach Ashok Yadav felt that the bonding of his wards helped them recover fast from the incident. “Most of these kids have travelled a lot together earlier and share a strong bond. And that was evident in the incident where each of them helped each other. When the equipment arrived, we took turns setting the bows. Three of us including me, Ravi Pradhan (coach) and chief coach Richpal, who had reached earlier, took turns to adjust the bows and wake up each player after a gap of two hours so that they could catch some sleep,” revealed Yadav.
Whatever be their medal haul in the tournament, they would never forget the 41st junior nationals in Dehradun.