A leap of faith

A leap of faith

She flinches every time the photographer focuses on her. Shifting her weight on the sofa at the plush hotel in Bangalore, where athletes of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) Games 2009 are staying, she declares: “I’m just not used to such attention!” 

You’d think Steffi Nerius, World Champion 2009 in javelin throw, would be media savvy. She’s a fierce coach, driving the German Paralympic team to do better on the field, but she’s awfully shy when it comes to facing the camera.

Media shy, medal friendly
It takes a strong South Indian filter coffee and a few insider tips from yours truly on where to buy the best coffee beans in town to get Steffi to relax and rewind about her journey on the sports field. Though the gold medal would take years to win, Steffi’s passion for sport began from her school days. High jump and long jump were her favourite events back home in East Germany. “Sport has always been a special focus in my life. As a child, I would watch a lot of TV and I would be fascinated by women who excelled in sport — any sport. I call it inspirational TV,” she says. Her first brush with fame came when she won a bronze for javelin throw at a competition in West Germany (Leverkusen). She was just 19 years old.

“The bronze made me train harder. I trained for a minimum of three hours every day before a competition,” she says. Steffi went on to win the 4th position in the 2000 Olympics held in Sydney. She won the silver in 2004 at Athens, slipped to 5th position in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics but won the gold in the Berlin World Championship in 2009.

Her muscular physique reveals that the journey to the top has been no easy climb. “I had an aim. I set a goal. And I had a strategy. Once the vision was in place, it was easy to get to the finishing line. There were moments when my faith ran thin and my health problems caught up with me. But I knew I could surge ahead,” she says.
In 1995, while sunning herself near the Sydney harbour in Australia, she promised herself a tattoo if she won a gold in the Sydney Olympics. She was ranked No 4. “I didn’t get the gold, but I got myself the tattoo — it has the Olympic rings and a boomerang,” she says.

The medals were piling up but retirement was already on her mind. Again, it was goal-setting time.
“I wanted the perfect exit. I had been working really hard for the Berlin World Championship. I was strict about my diet and my training schedule was rigorous. I did not want the second or third position in the Berlin championship,” she says. On August 18, 2009, Steffi Nerius was crowned World Champion amid screaming locals, elated parents, showers of confetti and rivers of champagne. “It was the perfect exit. I had begun my sports career in Berlin in 1985 and on that particular August morning, it had come a full circle. Nothing could ever be as good as this — I had finished on top.” Weeks later, she got in touch with the Rehabilitation and Handicap Academy in Germany and began training the physically challenged. “I will continue coaching and learning from my team members because I am just not a desk-job person,” she says with a chuckle.

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