New Delhi: Dipika Pallikal, one of India’s best squash players, is back on the field after four years, a break she needed to start a family and do “something different” in her life while her career chart “stalled”.
Blessed with twins last October, the 31-year-old has been training hard for the past few months with a focus on the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games later this year.
Pallikal, who founded an interior design company in her time outside of sports, wants to make more history during the two multi-sport events.
She is expected to compete in the doubles events in the Birmingham Games, before gradually ramping up her workload to also play singles in the Hangzhou Games.
Pallikal and India’s highest ranked player Joshna Chinaappa had won India’s first-ever gold in CWG history at the 2014 Glasgow edition.
Speaking to PTI about motherhood and comeback, Pallikal said she was fortunate to have a support system that allowed her to take time off from the game in 2018.
The former number 10 in the world was in the top 20 when she took the break, but she couldn’t move up the ladder, which made her decision easier.
Being a mother to twin boys is “double work”, but Pallikal, married to cricketer Dinesh Karthik, is enjoying this special phase of her life.
“Yes, it is difficult (being a mother and a top athlete) but I don’t want to emphasize it. Obviously it’s hard with the kids sleep cycle and it’s double the work because of twins.
“My husband is also an athlete, and he is training and playing. So there’s a lot of responsibility on me, but of course I’m very lucky that I’ve had a solid system, a family, that helps me with my schedule that I still work out mornings and evenings.
“…it’s all the same as before, but have to get up at 3am before training for a feed. But I knew for a long time that I wanted to come back and play. I’ve wanted to do this before I had kids and I know it would be double the hard work I had to do after I had kids.
“It was just that, it wasn’t easy, but I enjoy the space with added responsibilities of just going back home after training and being with the kids.”
A knee injury last year and the pandemic also delayed her return, but Pallikal cannot complain about COVID wreaking havoc on the lives of millions of people around the world. With the children by her side, she feels more grateful than ever.
“It’s a whole new way of looking at life. How do I say it’s a whole new outlook on life. It’s always been squash squash squash since I was 10, I wanted to be the best in the sport.
“But in the past two years so many things have happened in life. I have learned to appreciate life and I appreciate the smaller things. So just being back on the track and playing on both my feet gives me happiness,” said the winners of Padma Shri and Arjuna.
Pallikal could make her competitive return with Joshna at the Women’s Doubles World Championships in Glasgow in April. The Chennai-based player plans to return to the PSA professional tour only after the Asian Games. She expects to be at her best after another month of training.
Her selection in the Indian team for the two major events will depend on her performance in the trials to be held in due course, SRFI Secretary General Cyrus Poncha has said.
Pallikal was 27 when she dropped out of the competition. Four years later, she is still young enough to compete at the highest level. Her longtime teammate Joshna, who is 35, has been playing her best squash in recent years and seems to be only getting better as she gets older.
Talking about the decision she made in 2018, Pallikal added: “I wanted to take time off for many reasons. I felt stagnant in results, I was at a level where I wasn’t very happy.
“Another reason was to want to start a family. And definitely try to do something different. I’ve been playing squash since I was 10. I had done nothing but squash.
“It may not have been the right time then. It might have been the right time.
“Maybe it was the right age. It may not have been the age. But I felt like I was stagnant and I sat down and I really felt like I wasn’t going to go up. So for me it was very important (to make that call).”
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