Born in Pune, Maharashtra, this month we introduce you to Shruti Kotwal. Starting her career at a tender age of 7, she has come a long way and now represents India in Ice Speed Skating. In her illustrious journey, Shruti had to conquer many challenges at every stage and has been successfully chasing her dream. In a tête e tête with our editor in chief, she discussed various aspects of her life and the sport itself. Read the gist of the interview below.
Please tell us about your early days of ice speed skating and how did you get into the sport?
“My journey began with roller skating at the age of seven as a hobby. Being a national level gold medal winner at roller skating for several years, I decided to give ice-skating a shot, owing to fewer opportunities in roller skating. I started in Shimla inside a small ice-skating rink which hosts a national camp and national competitions every year. It was an upcoming sport and the fact that it is an Olympic sport and globally recognised, attracted me more towards it. Gradually, I was fascinated by the explosivity and agility needed for the sprinters coupled with strength and endurance in speed skating. Ice Speed Skating is a drag race on ice. Originating in the Netherlands, it was included in the first Winter Olympics in 1924 as a men’s event. Only in 1960 Games in Squaw Valley, the United States, women’s speed skating was added.
I had to relearn the tricks and modify my practices for the new sport. I would practice roller skating back in Pune, my hometown, before getting a scholarship from the International Skating Union (ISU) in the year 2012. My performance caught the attention of Jeremy Wotherspoon, one of the world’s greatest speed skaters ever. Upon her suggestion, I decided to move to Calgary, Canada — considered as the best place to hone skating skills.”
Are there any specific achievements that you are really proud of?
“The crowning moment of my life came at the South Asia Championship in 2011 when I secured gold medals in categories of 500m, 1000m and 1500m. I managed to slice off one-hundredth of a second, off my own national record, at the 500 meters speed skating event, at Caglary. Several other achievements — 5 gold medals at National Ice-Skating Championships, Shimla — Bronze medal at National Winter Games, Gulmarg — Participant at the Asian winter games in Japan 2017 — encompassed my entire career.”
What do you think about the future of ice speed skating and other winter sports in the country?
At a time, sports were a tough profession for women in India. Things have been changing lately due to globalization and few other factors but yes, it’s not been easy for me to be where I am today, if it hadn’t been my family who have been pillars throughout. Apart from that, speed skating is an extremely demanding sport. You need to have an extraordinarily strong lower body and core, as well as good cardio; at the same time, you need to have the skill of skating as fast as possible on a very thin and long blades.
Other than the sports scenario, the biggest challenge is living alone! Athlete’s life can be monotonous and stressful because of the need of everyday training for the frequent competitions. Living away from home, family and friends is the toughest part of this journey! How do you cope with such instances?
During the time, I was still in college and lacked the motivation to flow with the change. I had to completely move my base and live alone. Nobody had done something like that before in my family. But it was my family, especially my mother, that supported me. My father gave me the liberty to choose my own career and has always supported my decisions from an incredibly young age. Being a national level athlete in her school days, my mother took all the responsibility for my practice and races all over India. She made sure I never gave up. My family had their own set of doubts, and I had mine too, but my dedication and passion were above all such reservations.
We all knew the limitations that were possibly heading towards us once I chose this path, but the support was always there! My then fiancé (now husband) and I were in a long-distance relationship for a very long time and stayed apart for years. He understood my pain and passion because he is also a skater. We managed to get through the hardest phase of our lives together lifting each other up and today I can say that it only made our relationship stronger, and it was all for the love of skating!
What are the challenges you faced as a female skater to make a mark in your career?
It is not normal, especially for a woman, to break stereotypes and choose a path which was hardly ventured by anyone before. But I think passion and desire to succeed can bring out the best of an individual and help you overcome the unthinkable.
My most memorable moment occurred at the South Asian Championship, 2011 when I secured gold medals in categories of 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Nothing more could define my hard work than seeing the tri-color on the podium!
But the hunger to succeed didn’t stop there, and I just wanted to continue to bring home victories.
Which tournaments did you recently participate in and how did it go?
silver and bronze in 500mts and 1000mts respectively in the AmCup champions challenge/ US Open masters championships 2022.
In my personal opinion, I could have done much better and will keep working to improve my rankings and timings.
New national records in 500mts, 1000mts and 1500 mts.
Who is your female sports idol in India?
Mary Kom, She has inspired me like nobody else.
What are the key skills one needs to have to become a successful ice speed skater? For any athlete, not just a female, these essentials are what will define their career:
Willingness to sacrifice a normal life.
Willingness to travel alone frequently for long periods of time.
Willingness to work hard with sincerity.
Have a plan of execution for all the dreams.
Perseverance and passion.
Honesty towards your sport and your country.
5 key essentials for success in sports
Dedication / Commitment
Staying alone / away from family and friends for long periods of time.
Missing family functions, weddings, birthdays.
Having a control over favourite foods and drinks.
Personal life at hold for women athletes (pregnancy)
What are your plans for the future and what measures are taking to fulfill them?
My next big goal or you can call it my next target- to qualify for the Skating World Cup next year. And to do that, one needs to achieve the given distance in a provided time at the qualifiers. If I can meet the time standards, I will be the first Indian to do so.
Had there been a better infrastructure for Ice Skating in India at that time, I would have been able to meet my targets sooner and have the Olympics as my goal and wouldn’t have gone through all these struggles. More importantly, I have met all my requirements in all the countries so far wearing all the travel and training cost from my own pocket.
We often buy artefacts just by looking at its beauty, failing to recognise the efforts put in by the artist. Similarly, in India, you need to prove your mettle for attracting sponsors. But what one needs to understand is that success needs support and the right resources before reaching for glory.
There exist many such Shruti Kotwals, and we sit back and wonder why India is not so dominant in the Olympics. The answer probably lies somewhere in this story.
Please give us a gist on your training and diet schedule during competitions?
My day starts early. With two training sessions scheduled for a day, one happens in the morning and the other either in the afternoon or evening. While the former includes training on ice for up to three hours, the later one works on the development of strength and endurance. While cycling and running focus on the endurance part, weight training and bodyweight exercises take care of the strength aspect.
Dryland training is a major part of my practice. It simply means imitating the skating movements of the ice or off the skates. Dryland exercises are incredibly challenging for the lower body.
When not training, I am sharpening my skates, getting recovered for the next training or most importantly, cooking!
I do not follow any specific diet program. I just focus on healthy lifestyle, but it is nothing fancy and just involves eating balanced meals three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I supplement myself with steadfast nutrition products after every training for optimum recovery and I also take some multivitamins specifically iron that is necessary for women. I also make sure that I consume electrolytes during long workouts.
Anything that you would like to add?
If you want to take up a sport in India that is unconventional like any winter sport, then be prepared to be underprivileged as an athlete in India because lack of awareness of Olympics leads to lack of visibility which will also mean lack of sponsorships and support even though you will have immense talent and the grit to succeed.
But as they say,” you measure the size of the achievement by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals.” Because the greater the obstacle, the more Glory in overcoming it!
If you love your sport and you dream to represent your country, then you will find joy in all the hard work and struggle!
Amen to that Thought !