Chikte relieved 'vanvas' is over

Chikte relieved 'vanvas' is over

Life can be brutal at times for a sportsperson. They could be flying high, savouring in all the success, but, just like that, at the snap of a finger, it can all come crashing down. Years of dedication and hard work washes away right in front of their teary eyes completely unannounced.

Promising young goalkeeper Akash Chikte endured this trauma last year. The Army custodian, following some impressive performances at international meets, had risen to become ace keeper PR Sreejesh's understudy -- Chikte and Suraj Karkera were fighting it out for the No. 2 slot.

Then all hell broke loose for the son of a welder from Yavatmal who had defied odds throughout his life to get to the top level. His father had to undergo brain surgery in Nagpur and he, while nursing an injury on a toe in his left foot, made the cardinal sin of getting an injection from a normal doctor in his hometown. The doctor, despite being told by Chikte he's a sportsperson, administered a high dosage anabolic steroid and the unsuspecting keeper failed to seek a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) certificate. As fate would have it, Chikte was found positive for the banned Norandrosterone during an out-of-competition test at the Senior team’s hockey camp in Bengaluru on February 27.

Chikte was initially banned for two years by NADA’s Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (ADDP) last October but after going through his explanation and finding out he had not taken it "intentionally", the ban was reduced to 13 months this May.

"It feels like 'vanvas' (wilderness) has ended," gushed Chikte on Sunday at the hockey stadium here, moments after playing his first competitive match since the ban ended. "Everyone was talking about me, they were saying things to my family, making them anxious. When I was winning medals, people were not saying good things about me to my parents. But now, they were queuing up to say bad things.

"They would tell my family, 'Your boy takes drugs'. I don't even take protein supplements during the camp. Today also I'm drinking glucose water. I was devastated. Mum and dad were crying. But they weren't able to say anything to me on my face. They don't have much knowledge about these things. They thought I had done something wrong and got caught. They weren't looking me in the eye. They were feeling awkward about asking me. When I explained everything to them, they were relieved."

Despite going through hell, Chikte never gave up. Mocked by some of his friends and colleagues as "the one who does drugs", to see his dad go through a frightening brain surgery to being left to fend for himself in trying to clear his name in the dope case, the 27-year-old fought all the battles with a steely heart.

"Suddenly everybody forgot me. The academy or state government or whoever.
I made a programme for myself -- a weekly training programme, a diet chart. I started training in the night because I couldn't sleep and was crying continuously. So I thought it was better to practice from 12-2.00 am.

"When I went to the ground to train, some people would say, 'Hey, I read that you did this, how are you still coming to the ground.' But I was not bothered because I knew I hadn't done anything wrong. There was also a danger of being dismissed from the Army due to indiscipline. But I told my officer that I had done nothing wrong and I'd clear my name. So they supported me. I felt good when my ban was reduced to 13 months. People then started thinking that maybe I was actually innocent."

Although he has to start his career from scratch now, Chikte is determined on donning the national colours again. "My first target was to clear the stain that was on me. And I did that. My second target was to maintain my fitness. I did that and now I'm playing. My third target is to get back to the national team. I have to do well in all the domestic tournaments I play. The main target is the nationals in January."

A fighter to the core, there's no reason why Chikte can't scale that mountain again.


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