Tokyo-bound pistol shooter Abhishek Verma could be a lawyer following in the footsteps of his father, who is a high court judge. He could also have chosen a different career path, making the most of his Bachelor of Technology degree. But nothing quite brought him joy like shooting did.
Verma will be making his Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games this summer. Even though athletes are now increasingly looking at sports psychologists to give them the mental edge, Verma, despite being in a technical, precision-based sport, is treating it more as a hobby.
"The most important thing in shooting is mental fitness,” Verma told the Olympic Channel.
“But I don't need sports psychologist. I never felt that because I do shooting as a hobby since I started. It keeps me happy. Also during the lockdown, I focused a lot on mental training.”
Verma turned to shooting quite late in life, compared to the high-flying teenagers that now represent India at the biggest stages. It was his coach, Manoj, and fellow shooters at the Eklavya Shooting Range who first noticed his talent in 2015. But the Haryana-based shooter did not consider turning it into a career till he completed a degree in B.Tech and then law.
"I started shooting in November 2014 as a hobby,” the 30-year-old said.
“Then in 2015, I started pistol (shooting) and was hooked. I was training under Manoj sir at Eklavya Shooting Academy in Hisar. He used to teach us the basics. He told me that I was doing well and believed in me. I didn't want to compete as I started it as hobby and it was fun. I used to come to the range, take 20-30 shots and go home. But after six months of doing this my scores were very good and everyone around encouraged me to stay in the sport."
On his parents’ insistence, he completed his engineering degree. But later opted to study for civil service.
“I couldn't clear the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) exams,” he recalled. “So my mother suggested I do a degree in law. Once I completed that I took up shooting seriously in 2017.”
He first broke into the Indian team in 2018, at 28 years of age. Verma quickly rose through the ranks and clinched a bronze medal at the Asian Games. In 2019, he struck gold at the Beijing World Cup and the Rio de Janeiro World Cup.
"I was around 26 or 27 years when I took a life-changing decision to leave the computer science, law degree aside and pick up shooting,” he said. “Shooting has given me a lot of respect, happiness and pride for myself and my family.”
The gold medal at the World Cup in Beijing helped him clinch India’s second quota in the men’s air pistol event. Verma is now gearing up for the ISSF World Cup due to be held in New Delhi from March 18 to 29. Following that, he is expected to take part in the 64th National Shooting Championships, which will begin on April 10.