The 22-year-old Gajanan Shahadev Khandagale, who hails from Talwada village in the Beed district of Maharashtra was addicted to the mobile game PubG a couple of years ago. He would spend hours a day continuing to play the game, and continued to get better at it. Little did he know, at the time, that his addiction to the popular first-person shooter game will one day lead him to win the Bronze medal at the Khelo India University Games 2021, in Bengaluru, Karnataka.
Gajanan, in 2019, was at the National Cadet Corps when he was informed by his peers about the GV Mavalankar Shooting Camp, where students interested in the sport were asked to appear for the trials. Having gained a reputation as a skilled PubG player, and developing an interest in shooting, Gajanan decided to appear for them. There, he found out, that aiming came naturally to him.
“In PubG, you have to aim properly to hit the target. I received a great understanding of how to do that through that game,” Gajanan said.
“On the first day of my selection of shooting trials, I felt quite good about myself, holding a Rifle. Before that, I had never even seen one before, and there I was, having one in my arms,” he added.
After performing well at the camp, and following the same in local and national-level tournaments in the 50m Rifle 3 Positions events, Gajanan was on top of the world. But belonging to a family of limited means, his joy was short-lived, as he soon realised that he cannot afford to pursue the sport.
“I had no knowledge at the time about how expensive the sport can be. Besides expensive equipment and gear, the cost of travelling, diet, and maintaining physical fitness, was too much to bear,” he said.
A disappointed Gajanan went to his parents to request them to allow him to pursue his dream of becoming a shooter. His father, who sells slippers for a living in the village, backed him and decided to sell 2-3 quintals of their ancestral land to fund his shooting career.
“My parents also borrowed money from some of my relatives to ensure I pursue my dreams. I decided to switch to 10m Air Rifle at that point, as it required fewer equipment and was relatively easier to afford,” Gajanan said.
Luckily for him, his decision to switch categories only improved his performance, as he went on to create a new record at 30th All India G.V.Mavalankar Shooting Championship with 397 points out of 400 in Qualification Round of 10m Air Rifle, in October 2021. Six months later, in April 2022, he also scored 630.3 in the 10m Air Rifle National Trials Qualification round, finishing in the top position.
Now, representing Savitribai Phule Pune University, Gajanan, who competed at the 10m Air Rifle event at the KIUG 2021 at the SAI Shooting Range in Bengaluru, won the Bronze medal on Sunday, with a score of 260.2.
“Khelo India scheme is a good opportunity because you have a chance to compete with some of the best athletes across all the universities. The government will be providing funding to kids at the starting level, and this will help them in making their ends meet when they begin their careers,” Gajanan said.
Despite facing all the financial struggles, Gajanan is focused on making his journey to the Olympics. At this point, he is not worried about having a job. He is also receiving full support from his parents, who constantly push him to reach newer heights.
“My aim is to go to Olympics. Whether I got a job or not, I will not leave the sport behind. I will keep walking this path, irrespective of where I reach. I have made up my mind to give my 100 percent to this sport, and even if I fail, I will be proud of the hard work and the sacrifices I made to fulfill my dreams,” Gajanan signed off.