In an interview of Tejaswin Shankar for Indian Express, he tells about India’s first-ever athletics medal winner Neeraj Chopra and how he has been an inspiration for peers around him.
Tejaswin Shankar has been a long-time friend of Neeraj Chopra. Tejaswin Shankar is the national record holder in the men’s high jump. The first time he met Neeraj was in a dope-testing room in 2015 and like many Indians back then, he also had no idea who he was. He says,” Our real bonding happened during the 2016 South Asian Games. We both were among the youngest athletes and I was feeling a bit out of place as I didn’t have any friends. I spoke to Neeraj and he told me that I belong here and like other athletes, I too have met the qualification standard to be there. That’s where our friendship began and it didn’t take long for it to blossom into brotherhood.”
Tejaswin tells that how after winning a gold medal in javelin throw in the Tokyo Olympics, he called him and was telling about the experience,”This morning when I was asleep, I got a video call from Wayne Lombard, a dear friend and scientific advisor of the Indian women’s hockey team. I picked up Wayne Bhai’s call and saw a smiling Neeraj with a medal around his neck. I was still half-asleep and for a moment thought it was a dream. I quickly went to the bathroom and washed my face and applied some talcum powder. “Bhai tu soh raha tha na?” (You were sleeping?), Neeraj asked me. “Of course, you’ll find most people asleep at six in the morning,” I replied.”
— Wayne Lombard (@waynelombard) August 8, 2021
“Neeraj took me through his throws. I was only concerned if he was okay because after the fourth throw, he seemed to be in some discomfort. I was relieved when he told me he was fine. Imagine he has won India’s first-ever athletics medal but he’s telling me that he’s feeling bad for (Johannes) Vetter”, he added in the same interview.
He further adds how Neeraj Chopra is in real life, “He’s one of those persons who can never say no to you if you’re his friend. I remember him telling me once that a lot of people had borrowed money from him and that he’s not even cared to make a note or a list. I honestly feel he’s too nice for his own good.”
Tejaswin, after seeing his friend winning the first gold medal for the country after 13 years was so pumped up and motivated that he went down the floor and did 20 push-ups and is getting ready for Paris 2024. That’s what friendship is all about, pushing each other to be a better version of themselves.
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Tejaswin shares an anecdote about the Olympian that inspired him to the core, “In 2016 after his Junior World Championship gold medal, I was taking a walk with Neeraj at the JSW facilities in Bellary. I asked him what he’s done with all the prize money or if he’s secured a government job. He didn’t seem interested in the conversation at all and was extending his arm and doing this weird throw-action. I asked him, “What are you doing? Why aren’t you responding?” He replied, “You know, I can easily add another two meters if I get my block (the extension of his left leg at the point of release) right. I realised that day that money and recognition don’t matter to him. He had his eyes set on just improving himself. From that day, he became a person I looked up to.”
As a friend, the things Tejaswin had to do for Neeraj, will give you major friendship goals,” But I think he owes me something. After his World junior medal, his Instagram got flooded with messages, especially from women. Although he wasn’t interested in any of them, for courtesy’s sake, he asked me to reply to them. He told me what he wanted me to write in Hindi and I would do the rest.”
Tejaswin tells in the same interview about another side of the gold-medalist that no one knows about,” We even shared a room for 15 days in Bangalore. Honestly, he may be an Olympic champion now but I still dread sharing a room with him. He’s a bit disorganised. If you enter his room, you’ll find his clothes drying on the bed or his socks in the middle of the room. I didn’t say anything to him because sharing a room with Neeraj was a huge thing for me. We bonded over fried rice and matka kulfi for the next fortnight. The only boys’ talk we had was about video games. He was crazy about Mini Militia then and now he’s into PubG. I’ll ask him if has a girlfriend when I meet him next time.”
Learning more about Neeraj Chopra tells you, that he is just like us, a normal person coming from a humble background who aspired for big things in life, and with grit, determination, and great friends or brother-like Tejaswin, he conquered something big. Something which made the whole country feel in awe of him and we couldn’t be more thankful for him. Thank you, Neeraj Chopra!