#UnitedBy growth - Shiva Keshavan
Shiva Keshavan was the first Indian athlete to compete in luge at the Olympic Winter Games. After competing in six editions of the Olympic Games, he is now working to help grow winter sports and the Olympic Movement throughout India.
When Innovation Is Key
When Shiva Keshavan first got involved in luge, winter sports in India were almost non-existent. Even in the Himalayan mountains where he grew up, at an altitude of 2,500 metres, there was no official competition – winter sports were just for fun. Keshavan fell in love with the adventure and speed of luge and decided to dedicate himself to the sport, despite the total lack of infrastructure.
“When I started seriously training, we had no facilities, no coaching, no equipment,” he says. “In order to reach my goals, everything had to be done in a really innovative way. India had no training facilities, which is pretty much the basic thing you need for any sport. With a little inspiration from movies like ‘Cool Runnings,’ we modified the sled slightly so I could use it down the highway. The road definitely has more obstacles than a luge course does, especially in India, with the traffic and the potholes, but these challenges were very much a part of my journey. I think each challenge made me stronger and made me grow that much more.”
I can set an example now for the next generation. I think it's very important for athletes to take this role of theirs as leaders, because people are looking up to you.Shiva Keshavan
This innovative approach paid off. Keshavan became the youngest luge Olympian in history. He competed in six Olympic Games and is the reigning luge Asian champion. Not only was he the first-ever Indian athlete to compete in luge, but when he attended his first Olympic Games in Nagano in 1998, he was the only competitor representing India in any capacity.
“It was a dream come true, and an extremely humbling feeling being in that massive stadium with all these athletes whom I’d only seen on TV. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I could reach this level of competition, and even when I got there I didn't fully comprehend the magnificence of the event. But once I had my country’s flag in my hands, I didn’t feel alone anymore because I was representing my people, and that gave me confidence.”
Bringing Success Back Home
Keshavan recognises that there is a responsibility that comes with being an elite athlete, both in acting as a representative while abroad, and in learning how to share success once back home.
“My Olympic experience helped me grow so much as a person, knowing that I have this responsibility, and when I came back to my country, I saw the way people were looking up to me and looking at me to do something. I've had so many more opportunities than so many people in my home town, my home village. I can set an example now for the next generation. I think it's very important for athletes to take this role of theirs as leaders, because people are looking up to you.”
Looking to the Next Generation
Now that he is retired, Keshavan is focusing on sharing his love of luge with his home country in the hope that winter sports will grow throughout India. He sees exposure as the first step in expanding India’s winter Olympic programme.
“I'm involved in a lot of initiatives now to develop winter sports and to promote the Olympic Movement in general. For winter sports, I see a lot of enthusiasm amongst young kids. I run a national talent scout programme in which I go with my roller sleds to villages and schools and let people try the sport, experience it. I see a lot of passion there. Since I'm not an active sportsman anymore, I hope to have more time to build a sustainable development programme – that’s one of my goals.”
Keshavan believes that sport is about much more than winning medals, and that youth participation is good for the community, whether they play competitively or not.
“Olympism is having respect for other people,” he says. “You can compete, you can try to match yourself up to anybody else, but if you're doing that with respect, that is what is going to make you grow as a person, and I think that’s the most important thing. For me, it's not faster, higher, stronger than anybody else, but rather faster, higher, stronger than yourself. That way you're constantly growing.”