Despite failing to make it to India’s senior shooting team for four years, Sheeraz Sheikh kept his dream alive. And his determination and hard work finally earned him what he always wished for – wearing India colours.
While shooting in the selection trials in Patiala recently, Sheeraz made his gun do the talking and clinched his place in the national skeet team.
The 26-year-old shooter, who has been part of the junior team, will now represent India seniors in the coming four World Cups to be held in Cyprus, Rio (Brazil), Baku (Azerbaijan) and San Marino.
Elated after being selected, Sheeraz spoke to IBNLive in an exclusive interview and said: “It is nothing less than a dream come true for me.”
“It took four years to make it to the senior team. It was a challenging phase for me but I was focussed and kept performing and giving my best. At last, my hard work paid off. All the credit goes to my family and coach. They supported me a lot,” Sheeraz said after qualifying for all the four World Cups and Asian Shooting Championships in Tehran.
Sheeraz, in the last four years, has played 13 World Cup tournaments but failed to earn a place in the senior category.
“I have missed to make it to the Indian team from 13 World Cups by 0.2 or 0.3 margins. Those were frustrating moment but I thank the lord for being with me and motivate me chasing my dream”, the shooter said.
Sheeraj, however, credited India’s shooting coach and 1996 Atlanta Olympics gold medallist Ennio Falco, whose guidance and experience helped him get into the senior fold.
In Patiala, he shot 75 out of 75 targets and finished the competition with 121 out of 125 targets to make it to World Cup and the senior team too. In the second set of trials, he shot 117 out of 125. In the third, he shot 119 and followed it up with 120 in the fourth.
“I was shooting well this time and gave more time in training sessions. My coach, Ennio Falco, helped me a lot. He has encouraged me and boosted me always. He is my inspiration too. When your inspiration teaches and guides, you learn more quickly. The same happened with me. I am lucky to have him as coach,” Sheeraz said.
Describing the pressure in the trials, the 26-year-old said: “Honestly, there was huge pressure on me. All I was telling myself wasthat I have to do it this time at any cost.”
Mairaj Khan, who has won the Olympic quota for the country, was also shooting alongside Sheeraj.
“We both have a good equation. He gives me tips as he is from the same event (skeet). He has really worked hard to reach at this level. Finally, he has got his reward and will be representing India at the Rio Olympics. I am sure he will get a medal for the country,” the shooter said.
Starting his career as a cricketer, Sheeraz never thought he will be a shooter some day. Lack of support in his favourite sport forced Sheeraz, who has represented Uttar Pradesh in under-16 cricket, to opt for shooting as career with other family members also being shooters.
“I always wanted to be a cricketer….But as my father, sister and brother were already in shooting and most of the time they used to discuss the sport, the craze for shooting automatically developed. Now shooting is my life. I love and live it,” Sheeraz said.
Sheeraz started in 2006 as a junior in skeetshooting. He participated in the Asian Shooting Championship in Kuwait City in 2008, which was his first international tournament. He finished fourth in the individual category in the championship and was also part of the gold medal-winning team in the junior category.
With the shooting World Cup not that far, Sheeraz has started his preparation and is gunning to win a medal at the mega event.
“The day trials ended, I started my preparation for the World Cup. I am in regular touch with my coach Falco. We discuss about the training programmes and physical fitness. My mental psychologist,Vaibhav Agashe, is helping me too. After the Cyprus World Cup, which is finishing on March 23, I will be travelling to Italy with my coach for personal training,” the shooter said.
“All I want is to win a medal for my country,” he said.
Shotgun shooting events are considered the costliest in comparison to pistol and rifle shooting. And the skeet shooting requires clay birds (targets) too, in addition to the gun and ammunition.
Describing the cost of his routine practice, Sheeraz said: “One shot in skeet shooting costs around Rs 25 and clay bird Rs 9. All together a shot costs around Rs 40. Every day we shoot minimum 250 shots and the expenses come to Rs 8,000 to Rs 9,000 per day.
“There was a situation when my family was not that financially strong. I wanted to quit the sport but my father didn’t let my dream die. He has helped me in every step. In that crunch time, Supertech’s Mohit Arora sir also helped me financially. Thankfully, I didn’t let them down and will never,” an emotional Sheeraj added.
“My father [Yaseen Sheikh] is my biggest motivation. I have not fired a single shot when he is not standing behind me. He was also a shooter and won medals at National level in skeet shooting,” he concluded.
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