DH: Hi. Welcome to Keep on Pushing radio. I am your host Devon Harris and if this is your first time tuning into us, what we do is that we share ideas and insights that are going to challenge you and inspire you to keep on pushing and live your absolute best life. So, is that something you’re interested in? Then you’re in the right place friend, so welcome. Welcome to Keep On Pushing radio. My guest today is an amazing individual. I think you’re going to really enjoy this. At the age of 14, he won the junior ski championships in India, his native India. A year later, he was invited to participate in a luge camp at his school and one year later at 16 years old, he became the youngest person to ever qualify to compete in luge at the Olympic Games.
Since then, he has grown to become known as India’s fastest man on ice. He has set the Asian speed record. In fact, you know, he’s an Asian champion. He has won between 2005 and 2016, 10 medals in the Asian Cup and Asian championships. And yes, of course, he’s an Olympic athlete, six-time Olympic athlete. Yes, you heard right. He’s a six-time Olympian man and, you know, since his days on the slopes, he’s become a husband, a father, he’s the founder and president of the Indian Olympic Association. I am so excited to be able to welcome India’s fastest man on ice, a guy that I met many years ago, Shiva Keshevan. Shiva, welcome to Keep On Pushing.
SK: Hi. Hello everybody and hi Devon. It’s such a pleasure to be speaking to you from the last time. You are actually an inspiration to me, you know, from way before I started picking up the sport. So, it’s amazing after so many years to catch up again and look back at our journey.
DH: 02:49 Yes, it’s great man. The last time I saw you, you were a boyish-faced, teenager competing in your very first Olympic Games in Nagano. As I just mentioned, you’re a six-time Olympian now, a father, a husband. How’s life been treating you, Shiva?
SK: Well, it’s been great. I mean, it’s been such a long journey. It’s been 22 years that I’ve been completely focused on sports. And, right now I did my last Olympics in 2018, the PyeongChang Games and now I’m looking into this difficult phase of transition that all athletes have to face at some point in their career. You know, after you’ve competed at the highest level and then you have to start from scratch and reintegrate into society as we speak. But since there are so many lessons learned along the way, so many places visited, so many people we’ve met, it’s a great opportunity to put all that into practice, in the work life as well. So it’s still trying to be an Olympian.
DH: Indeed. Yes. So when I think of India and the Olympics, what comes to my mind, first of all, is field hockey and then maybe, you know,or as they say in America, badminton or boxing or wrestling but luge, I mean, how did that come about?
SK: Well, it’s an interesting story actually. India is such a huge country. We have, you know, we have all kinds of areas, all kinds of climates. And I come from a very little known area of India way up north, close to the region of Kashmir. And it’s a place where we do have winter. We do have really high mountains. In fact, I was born at the 2,500 meters of altitude. I see 3000-meter peaks from my home. And it was always a dream for me to make this really secluded area and the secluded concept of winter sports into the mainstream. And which is why I’ve always been so passionate about representing not just my country, but my roots in the Himalayas, the small village of Pradesh.
DH: Yes. And so you’re in school and a luge coach comes there and decided that he wanted to find athletes to do luge?
SK: Oh well, yes. Actually, you know, you mentioned hockey and you mentioned a number of other sports. Hockey was one of my favorite sports as a kid, I represented my school team in that sport. And I was genuinely very sporty. I played all kinds of sports. My parents always pushed me for a healthy lifestyle, for an outdoor lifestyle, for an active lifestyle. And obviously, I became known as a winter sports athlete after I won a few skiing races in my childhood. And, since the idea of winter sports wasn’t really developed in India, the moment that my school received an invitation for a luge camp, the first parallel they drew was, hey, we have a guy in winter sports. This is another winter sports let’s push him and nobody, me, myself included knew of luge as a competitive discipline.
SK: I used to slide since I was a kid. Since I was probably six or even earlier than that, but I never imagined that I could go sleigh riding and make a career out of it. So, when the International Federation started this luge development camp and we had the next world champion, his name is Gunther Lemmerer, he’s an Austrian and he traveled around the world trying to recruit young athletes from countries that didn’t have a tradition in the sport. And that’s how he ended up in India. And that’s how I got invited into this training camp with a number of junior champions from various sports. And, you know, actually one of the first things they did to us to introduce us to the sport and to spike our interest was to show us the movie Cool Runnings. So, you know, in a way your roots are very much connected to how I started the sport. And so I identify.
DH: So, you went to this camp, you impressed the coaches. Were there any other athletes who were selected to continue training?
SK: There were in fact, the first time after initial luge camp, this was, I think in 1996, there was myself and another young athlete from Delhi. We both performed well in this camp and we won the competition, which they held at the end of this camp. And this was a roller luge competition. So they had modified the luge sleds……taken off the blades and put wheels under them and they would send us down the highway. There were cones that were acting as checkpoints that we had to take and the first onw down wins. And, I mean with my skiing background, I think I had, you know, I had an extra gear with respect to many of the other competitors and myself and this other friend of mine from Delhi in Manchu were selected to travel to Austria and go to Europe for the first time as an unaccompanied minor and see the world. It was a wonderful opportunity for us. And from that point on, I think my background with skiing, with winter sports, being born in a mountain and snow environment, I managed to excel more than all of the other athletes who came up along, you know, after and all the following years because I already had that experience on how to behave on ice and, you know, it’s not so easy even walking is difficult on ice, you know, and if you don’t have the experience…
DH: I discovered that early in my bobsledding career as well, you’re right. Yes, so…
SK: Yes. I think I had that advantage and I always wanted to prove myself in something. Something unique, something that was close to my heart and being able to do that in winter sports in particularly luge, there are so many things that appealed to me about the sport. So I was all in from the moment I started.
DH: So, in addition to the fact that you were a skier and you were kind of accustomed to operating in that kind of environment with the twists and turns and so on, what else about luge that you fell in love with?
SK: You know, as a kid it’s more of a superficial level because it was about the excitement, it was about the adrenaline. They were the first few things and as somebody who was always very much into adventure, something so challenging as luge, it immediately appealed to me. And then, of course, the emotion of being on the track or just seeing a sled go down the track for the first time, even though it’s a small little, non-technological piece of equipment, but you hear it coming down, it’s coming at you and then before you see it, it’s already gone. That really got my heart pumping and I remember the first time and many following times after that in the first few years when I was getting into the track, just dealing with confronting my fears, trying to overcome all the mental aspects of it, it was so challenging. And then the more I got to know about the sport and the more it became a pursuit of excellence and perfection, you know, I think many speeds sports can find this in common. It seems almost like time slowing down. People are looking at you from the outside they can’t fathom how you can do so many movements in what looks like the blink of an eye. Whereas when you’re experiencing it, it seems a lot longer than that and it’s almost like a meditative process. And so, you know, you look deeper and deeper into yourself and you know, try to find the small things that can give you an edge and it’s all about self-improvement at the end of the day, I think.
DH: Yes. You mentioned a couple of interesting things so, you’re right when you’re in a sled or on a sled, time, it doesn’t stop, but it really slows down. And it’s hard when I describe bobsledding to someone for them to fathom me telling them that I’m sitting in a sled saying to myself, wait, wait, wait, and they’re trying to figure out where does all that time come from to wait? But, you mentioned fears, controlling your fears, what would you say is your…certainly, as it relates to your sport, luge, is your biggest fear and how do you deal with it? How do you conquer it?
SK: Well, initially it was very simple. It’s the fear of bringing harm to yourself because at such extreme circumstances, you have the speed, you have the G-force, you have the medium, which is ice that is so slippery; so much can go wrong, that you have to have the confidence in yourself that you are able to overcome that and that was a big challenge. And even, you know, even once I got to an international level of the sport, when you’re going from the men’s start, from the top of the track, you’re hitting, you’re crossing 140 kilometers an hour, you still have some points in the track where you can have difficulties and the more errors you make in one particular point, suddenly, that becomes a wall that you have to overcome and how do you do that when you know that you have to go down the next run and face that wall again and face, hurt, feeling pain and how do you detach yourself from that and find the best in yourself, you know, and you know, as you say, you keep on pushing until you overcome that and then you start believing in yourself.
DH: Yes. Yes. So what I’m hearing you saying is that although you’re afraid yourself going on the track, and a lot of people when they think that people are successful, are fearless and it’s quite the opposite. You know, courage is still being scared to death, still knowing that you have to face that wall as you just mentioned, but doing it anyway, making yourself doing it because the more you face the fear, the greater your ability to overcome that fear and then succeed, excel, you know, becomes. So six Olympic Games, man, that is commendable it’s, I mean, longevity six Olympic Games in a row, it kind of reminds me of Anne Abernathy, Grandma Luge from the US Virgin Islands, right? But the thing that in a way surprises me, Shiva, is I see luge as a little bit more dangerous than bobsledding because we have a sled to cover us, you know, you guys are exposed to the elements, right? So you’re more susceptible to injuries, but yet here it is that I have you, I have Anne and there are others who have done five or less, Ruben Gonzalez. What do you think accounts for that longevity in your sport of luge, right? I cannot off the top of my head think of any bobsledders who have done six Olympic Games.
SK: Well there’s a lot of things, I mean, the first thing I think luge has a really long learning curve. In many sports you can just start, you can just wear your shoes or you know, get on the field and perform and experience it. Whereas in luge, it takes sometimes years just to be able to go off and start from the top start of the track that we call the men’s start. And for me when I started the sport, we didn’t really have much of a junior circuit and from the time I was 15 years old, I was competing with the men and so it takes so much time to reach that point and since it is a technical sport, and you mentioned some of the differences between luge and bobsled, there are so many nuances that you don’t really understand and it takes a long time to understand how to go fast without an engine, apart from the physical challenges, apart from the start, which is the only time that we are really putting our force into it our energy into it. The rest is technical…. is to figure out how can I be five centimeters to the left? How can I catch the g-force and get the forward momentum out of it? Understanding how just by lifting your head up a little bit or rather laying your head back a little bit more, you can be more aerodynamic and get those hundredths or thousandths of a second. And that is what takes such a long time in luge I think that is one very important aspect of it.
And, of course, there’s the technology component that comes after years you can start to concentrate on the technology after you have worked on yourself. And also, I think since it is an adventure driven sport, a lot of people take it up for the passion and once you’re used to those kinds of emotions, it’s difficult to let go and then, you know, you’re always chasing that marginal improvement….this run I was a few hundredths better than the last run and that’s such a great accomplishment and then you go to the next small step. So, just kind of sucks you in and you know, ultimately apart from all the aspects of the sport for me it became more of becoming part of a greater whole, finding a family which is my competitors and the entire environment that you find on the circuit. And then of course once I reached the Olympic Games, that family got extended to people from all walks of life, all countries, all sports and being part of that greater whole is something that is very hard to let go.
DH: Yes, that’s true. You know, you mentioned just progressing from just going down the track to finding ways to become more aerodynamic, finding that one hundredth of a second and it is so true. I think in all of our experiences, you go from just surviving, getting you down the track to having a certain amount of control to the point where you’re like, I need to figure out a way to go faster in this corner and I think it’s instructive to all of us in life as well. They talk about the different levels of competencies and in everything that you do, everything that all of us do, we have to understand that you’re going to start at this point where you really know nothing and then you build and you build until you become, very competent because everything, I think, or most of the things that we need to succeed in life is skill-based. So Shiva let’s go back to 1998, you mentioned actually earlier that you had a desire to kind of bring your little part of India on the map as a kind of a winter destination. So it’s 1998 you made the Olympics; well before that, before luge, were you ever thinking about competing in the Olympic Games?
SK: Well, I mean, I was always dreaming. I’m a dreamer that way. You want to accomplish things in life and everything that I would set my mind to, every sport that I would compete in I wanted to be the best at it. But you know, not having access to the kind of facilities that you see other athletes around the world have when you watch these big international competitions on TV, it seemed so unrealistic to one day be able to compete on that stage, because the place where I grew up, my little village, we don’t have a gym, we don’t have a single stadium, there’s no real professional sport environment. But still, even in that environment, passion can allow you to create the best for yourself.
Some things that we had access to, for example, is high altitude so, no matter what training you’re doing, whether it’s outdoor training, just free weight training it affects you that much more. So, making use of your strengths and not giving up just when you see that alright, somebody else has access to so much more facilities or such a faster sled or, there are so many things that can really bring you down but everybody I think has his own way and just by following somebody else, it’s more difficult to reach your goal rather than finding your own way. Something that suits you, your personality, your abilities and that is the difficult part because you don’t really have anybody to follow, of course, you have so many idols that you can get inspiration from, but ultimately, you know, you have to cut your own path and that’s what I think is the most important thing.
DH: Indeed, indeed. That’s a wise word, Shiva. You spoke about, unrealistic dreams and limitations, lack of resources, right? Drawing inspiration from others, but at the same time, creating your own path and it’s absolutely true in all walks of life. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Indiana or India, it’s worthwhile pursuing those unrealistic dreams because here it is that you are a teenage boy in a remote part of India pursuing these unrealistic dreams and having no idea how those dreams could ever come to fruition because as you said, there are no gyms, there are no trainers, no access to any resources but you’re sitting in front of us as a six-time Olympian because you drew inspiration from others. And I appreciate you talking about our story being one of those inspirations but in the end, you cut your own path.
So you qualify for Nagano, did the magnitude of that accomplishment hit you, right then? What was going through your mind about this chance to represent your country….being that guy, the only person actually, in the Olympics in Nagano for your country back then?
SK: Well, it was an amazing moment. It was very overwhelming for me as a16-year-old, reach, you know, the Olympic Village, to reach Japan. You know, my family was far away, all my friends, in fact, I had no teammates I was the only person representing India in Nagano. And of course, I realized how big this event is but when I set foot in the opening ceremony stadium for the first time, and when I lined up for that march path for the first time, that’s when the magnitude of it actually hit me. And I was completely awestruck and I really didn’t know how to react and I was, you know, shy in a way to be under such scrutiny and under the focus of the world and you realize that you’re stepping onto such a big stage. And you know, if I can tell you that is the moment that I met you for the first time and you came up to me and we had a conversation. And even though we had never met before, I knew some of your background story and we connected and that’s when I felt part of something bigger and I wasn’t alone out there. And then of course, once they hand you your country’s flag and then you feel I have the weight of so many millions of people behind me and that’s what gives you courage. And then you realize that you know, you’re insignificant really, but what you’re carrying with you, is then what you can draw this courage from.
DH: Yes. Indeed. So what does this say, this experience and everything that you’re describing to us now? What does it say about these unusual opportunities that life throws at us, that maybe starts because we are harboring these unrealistic dreams in our hearts and in our minds? And then, you know, life throws these unusual opportunities and the willingness and the open-mindedness that we need to have to step through the door and go explore those opportunities.
SK: 25:20 Well, I think that’s a very good question and it’s something that everybody is confronted with in many phases of their lives. In India, for example, when I was growing up, when you’re going to school your parents would tell you, you have to be a doctor, you have to be an engineer and that is your goal and they would set that path in front of you and you have to follow a set path to success but what happens when everybody follows this? You have a country which is full of engineers and full of doctors and there’s so much competition and there are so many things that are left, you know, without being addressed. I think each of us is unique, we all have our unique stories we all have our unique aspirations and for me, thanks to my family as well, they always pushed me to be my own person, to think for myself and to find what fulfills me. And I found that calling in luge, even though I didn’t know it earlier on. It was a set of opportunities that came up to me and at that moment, when you’re faced with that opportunity, you have to have the courage to say, all right, I accept this challenge and I’m going to take this challenge, I’m going to prove to myself what I can do. And that is what will then set you on a unique path and open up more and more and more opportunities and in front of you.
DH: Indeed. May we all strive to find our unique path, Shiva. So I know you alluded to this, maybe in your answer before this, but I wanted to kind of revisit it. So I described marching in the opening ceremonies as kind of the first instance where you’re really realizing and experiencing this Olympic dream. You’re marching into a stadium and there are, I don’t know, 50, 60,000 people cheering, more cameras than you can count and you’re holding and certainly in your case, your nation’s flag, what did that moment mean to you? If you can speak to that a little bit more.
SK: Representing my country, it was the biggest honor of my life. Carrying the flag and due to the circumstances, the only one representing India over there. So I immediately knew that it is something which is so much bigger than myself and I think it brought out a lot in me. It brought out a lot of maturity in that 16-year-old boy to understand that, you know, every moment I’m here, I’m representing my country and I have to do that with honor, of course, you have to show the best side of myself, of my country and you know, you never know the bonds that you create, the example that you set, the repercussions that you can have, especially when you’re on that kind of stage and the country of course. And then the Olympic movement, you know, just understanding the ideals and the responsibilities and the Olympic oath at the opening ceremony and you know, really the moment that Olympic flame comes on that symbolizes the fire that we have burning within us, you know, I cried the first time I saw the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony and I’m sure you can relate to that.
DH: Yes. You know, you’re right, it’s a really powerful symbol for me. You know, one of my favorite moments of the Olympics is when that flame is lit and one of my saddest moment is the extinguishing of that flame. I can still hear that horrible sound, the horrible swoosh. And what I describe as utopia is over but of course, you get to meet again four years later so in a way, the flame burns eternal inside of us.
So you started in your sport, you know, a short time before the Olympic Games and you mentioned earlier that because there were no junior programs going on, you were already competing against men, did you compete before Nagano? The Olympic race is always the biggest race for all of us. Before that race, did you compete in any World Cup race or World Championship the year before?
SK: Oh yes, I did the pre-Olympic season and I did the year before that where I was already in circuit, the first year I managed to qualify for my first World Cup. And from there, from the moment I qualified for my first World Cup, that was the first realization I had, that I was good enough to step onto the world stage. And that was the first time that my coach asked me the question and told me that he thinks I’m good enough to do this…..do I have it in me to go and do the qualification, which means competing in five World Cups, making the top 40, and you know, getting the minimum number of points. Still, I couldn’t look at the Olympics because the Olympics was too big to fathom for me at that moment but it was a question of, you know, I’m competing with all these people that I idolized, you know, I think they’re gods of the sport and here I am sharing the same dressing room with them. And when I qualified, I said, hey, wait a minute, I’m not so far behind, you know, it’s just a three and a half, four seconds behind the guys and I can catch them. And every race I had only five opportunities I didn’t have any margin for error. If I would have crashed out or not qualified for a single one of those five races, it would have meant that I’m not going to the Olympics. And I was lucky things worked out but also, I was not looking at failure because I had nothing to lose, I had everything to gain, however. And so every race I went there and I didn’t think about what would be the repercussions if I crashed out at this stage I just wanted to give it the best. And that mentality, the mentality of a young boy who has nothing to lose is something that I could have I think in hindsight, kept with me for a lot more races during my career when that fear of failure is actually the thing that is holding you back. Whereas, if you go without thinking and you do what your body is trained to do, you know, time and time again over the years before the Olympics, that’s what you’re to trust in and that you have to trust in yourself and don’t be scared of failure because you really have nothing to lose.
DH: Yes. As I started out Shiva with my introduction an amazing individual because I think that’s an amazing insight for a 15, 16 year old to be approaching this kind of challenging environment and going, hey, you know, I have nothing to lose, all the things that we talk to ourselves about, all I need to do is trust my training, trust my body, and allow myself to execute. And a lot of times I think the salesperson who has this huge deal on the line and is worried about losing it, If he or she would just focus on all the years of experience and training and study and allow themselves to execute as opposed to focusing on the fact that they may fail then you know, I think that they would have very different results. So, you and I Shiva we are both Winter Olympians and the Winter Olympics are sometimes called, the white Olympics because the snow and the ice is white but also most of the athletes are Caucasian. What was it, and I know that you have and I’ve experienced this as well, there’s a huge Olympic family and you’ve described that, what was it like for you though, in the very beginning? How did your fellow lugers accept you or did they accept you?
SK: Yes, well that was also a very, very interesting process for me when I…My sport was dominated by a handful of countries, Alpine countries, and then it got extended to, I mean Russia of course, and then extended to the US, Canada but only a very small part of the world, a small part of the population of the world was represented by these athletes and when I stepped in for the first time at an international event, I was obviously an outsider, and you could see it from a mile away, you know, everybody spoke the same language. I came from a completely different background and everybody could see that I’m the odd one out over here and that definitely, you know, made me stick out in the crowd. And I had to deal with a lot of issues because when you’re the only one who is different, people don’t really understand what you’re about or how you behave or you know, the things that you are generally used to calling normal and that was something that caused a lot of hardship initially. But at the same time I realized that once I prove myself on the field of play, then people started seeing me for what I am inside and you know, we realized that we are all doing the same thing, we all have the same spirit and there’s a lot of things that we have in common. And that’s when more and more people started coming to me and befriending me.
Earlier, I was the one who always had to go out and, you know, make the first move and try to learn from others. And since I was young, I was much younger to all the other competitors, a lot of them saw me as the kid that I was, so that, you know, it was easy for me to break that barrier and go and ask for advice, let’s say from a competitor because they don’t really see me as a threat but it did take a long time for the athletes from the traditional countries, let’s say, to accept me as part of the family. And that happened only once they saw that my commitment to the sport and to my passion was real. And that started a whole new, very interesting process of exchange and me being able to tell everybody what makes me different what’s normal for me and understand from them what is normal from them.
So, I think I grew a lot by meeting people from diverse cultures and races and religions. And then I myself learned a lot because I come from a very, very small village where I used to see the inverse, you know, people used to come from abroad visiting our area. We used to term them all as “Angrez” you know, which in India means Englishman and it’s the same term for any nationality no matter where you ae from from and we used to think they are all the same and so here I was facing that in the inverse, you know? And so I had to kind of assert that I’m unique, I’m my person and this is what I stand for and then I started to make a connection with everybody.
DH: Yes. And that’s one of the things I absolutely love about sports and I think that really distinguishes it from say the corporate world. Because I get it, I think it’s human nature to look at you suspiciously if you’re “different” but in sports, all we care about is performance. The thing we care about most is the performance, is this guy or this girl, can they do what they’re supposed to do? And especially in sports like ours, are they going to make it safe for us? Or are they going to create an added layer of danger for us? And you’re right, I experienced this as well. Once they saw that you were serious, once they saw that you were committed, then you know, you’re welcomed into the Brotherhood as it were, which I don’t know if that atmosphere necessarily exists in the corporate world, but certainly, in sports, it’s there. So, this has been a journey of more than 20 years, 22 years, right and I can just imagine the peaks and valleys, right, the challenges on the track, you have described some of them, just kind of learning the nuances of the sport, getting through challenging corners as we have to do in bobsledding as well, you know, getting hurt, crashing, even if your body doesn’t hurt, getting some bruised egos all the time but off the track as well, you know, especially with the lack of resources where you’re from and lack of funding, how do you deal with all of those challenges, Shiva? How do you find a way to keep on pushing?
SK: 39:05 Well again, that was a huge challenge for me throughout my career. I remember it was very difficult for me to even explain to my government that I’ve qualified for the Winter Olympics. They didn’t really know what it was. They in fact, asked me for a certificate to prove that it was the same thing as the Summer Games and it’s not kind of a recreational event and the next thing I was told was, okay, you want us to fund you why don’t you win a medal and show that you’re worth funding? And you know, as somebody who comes from sports, you know that that’s not the way it works. You have to invest in your youth and you have to give them the tools to perform and to succeed. And so even there, I had to come up with innovative ways. I did that by reaching out to my competitors and I was, of course, helped a lot by the International Federation that created a group of international athletes. The International Luge Federation has this program that they coach and they bring together a lot of countries that don’t have enough funding to have a technical staff and so you pool your resources and you learn that way. But still, when you’re focused on winning, you know that you need personalized coaching. You need a coach that finds the equipment, the technique, the training that works for you.
And so that was the second challenge, how can I get that kind of funding and resources to be in that space? And that is where I have my wife Namita, I met her in 2006. It was a time that I was really asking myself, can I really compete against the best in the world without these resources, without being able to go for this amount of training, without being able to invest in this kind of equipment? And she was from a corporate background and she said, you know what? Your story is so unique. Your passion can help and inspire so many people. Why don’t we take this, if the government is not supporting right now? Let’s go to the corporate sector, let’s put yourself out there and don’t give up, you know? And so we started looking for sponsorship together and no sports management company would look at me because nobody thought that there was any potential in an unknown sport. So we were on our own and we didn’t have any contacts so thank God the internet was a thing already. And so through online we looked up the main companies and got the contacts of the marketing directors and we’d write to them and we’ve knocked on so many doors. We knocked at over a hundred doors before the first company said, you know what? I’m going to support you and believe in what you’re doing and that gave me confidence.
And also once you have somebody backing you, then it’s easier to get the second and third and fourth sponsor. And then I got a few sponsors on board and Coca Cola helped me out, Swiss International Airlines helped me out, Samsung, so many companies, Reebok, they were lining up by the end of it, you know, to come and support me. And then eventually Indian companies picked up on this as well, because all the others were international companies and they understood that we have to support our country. And so I had Malcom, I had other Indian companies supporting me. So, I think, when you believe in yourself and then you’re pitching yourself to somebody else, your enthusiasm catches on. Whereas in my case, when I was going out to a sports management company, they didn’t really get my passion, they didn’t really get what I am, they couldn’t convince other people. So that’s how we were able to get funding to take up a project for a training plan to the next level. And then once I won my first international medal, I went back to the government and said, hey, remember you told me, to go win a medal?
DH: But you said something that is right on point you know, believing in yourself because what you’re describing to me is persistence. You your wife finding this way to keep on pushing, but you can’t persist you can’t keep on pushing if you don’t believe in yourself. Why would you do that if you didn’t think that you have the ability to get it done in the first place? And so, it’s kind of an interesting relationship, I think, between belief in yourself and persistence. The more you believe in yourself is the more you persist, but the more you persist is the more you believe in yourself and you create this upward spiral that eventually, leads to success one way or another. On your journey Shiva, I’m assuming that you have had doubters, you have had people who told you, man, this is an unrealistic dream it’s hair-brain, no Indian can become, a competitive, international luger. What advice do you have for us, for people who are pursuing their dreams, but have to contend with doubters?
SK: Oh, well that is something that…….there’s no lack of people that doubted me or that’s going to doubt you or doubt anybody who’s trying to set out to do anything great in life. Ultimately people view the world through the lens of their own experience and when you’re trying to do something great, which not many people have done before, the first reaction is going to be this is not possible. And, for me, I turned that into, motivation for myself. Every time somebody told me that you cannot do it, I was that much more adamant to prove them wrong and every time I broke through the glass ceiling for myself, I knew that I could aim for the next step, the next record, get another personal best or prove the others wrong. And, you know, there were a lot of naysayers when I started, even by the time I finished, there were a lot less of them, but there still were people. So that teaches us that there are always people who are going to try to bring you down and there might be a number of reasons for that, maybe because they don’t feel they can do it themselves or just, you know, out of spite or there are so many reasons. So rather than focusing on others and focusing on that negativity, I focused on myself and in fact, I went one step further and I use that negativity to motivate me and you know, to be that much more adamant and just keep going forward.
DH: Indeed. Wise words. You just spoke about the difficulty you’ve had with raising sponsorship, you know, the Indian government or the Indian Olympic Committee wasn’t very supportive as well. I had read about the fact that for the 2002 Olympics, you flew into Montreal and hitchhiked to the Salt Lake City Olympic Games?
DH: We have done some crazy things in bobsledding to raise funding but that takes the cream baby! That takes the prize.
SK: Yes. Well, that was incredible. I mean, I remember when I got to the US border, I mean, I knew I had people when I would get to the States, get to the village, the training center, but I had absolutely no money, no credit cards, nothing on me to get me until that point. And I thought that I would have hitched a ride with one of the other teams from the airport, but none of them were there. And so, I had to hitch a ride and when I reached the border, the immigration authorities told me that there’s a $10 fee that I had to pay to get the paperwork to enter the country and I did not have even $10 on me. And so I appealed to the officers who were on the border and I told them what I’m going to be doing and then that I don’t have any money on me right now. And one of the lady officers actually took out a $10 bill and paid for my immigration fee and allowed me to get in the country. I will forever remember that.
DH: So, you know, even this immigration officer became a team member and it really reinforces the fact that none of us, no matter how unrealistic we dream and how determined we are and how persistent we are, you still need others to help you to achieve that dream. So you’re having all these difficulties Shiva in raising funds and having the resources to train but then in 2002, the Italians offered you all the resources that you need. Most people, I don’t know, I don’t think, know that you’re actually half Italian, your mom is Italian as well. And so obviously, the Italians saw your commitment and your passion and the fact that you could add value to their program and they’re going to offer you the one thing you didn’t have that you would need to excel, all the resources and you said no. Why? Please tell us.
SK: Well, that’s another very…it was a difficult decision, no doubt at some levels, but at the same time, right now I feel like I’m a citizen of the world, because of all my exposure, I feel that anywhere in the world I go, I can make a place for myself but my roots still remain my roots. And especially at that time, I started the sport to push for a bigger idea. I started skiing and competing along with a lot of other young friends and companions of mine from my village and we had a common dream. You know, we would see the Winter Olympics on TV and we would say, one day this place is going to be the center of the world for winter sports because we have everything over here.
We have the mountains, we have the passion, we have the athletes and so I always wanted to contribute to that. And I think since it was kind of a higher calling, that was also something that kept me focused on the goal. That it’s not just for myself, for my own self-realization that I’m competing, but for all the people who helped me get to this point and pushed me, who support me. And every time I go abroad, they send me messages, you know, and they send me their energy. And you know, at that time my thought process was simple. Right now we have nothing in India in terms of infrastructure for the sport, but wait for five years and I’m sure everything is going to be here. So the thing I told myself is that…
DH: Forever the dreamer I see.
SK: What I told myself was I just need to stick to what I’m doing, I’m qualified for the Olympics now I’m doing better and better, I’m getting closer to the leaders and I’m going to bring attention to my area and we’re going to develop over there and it’s going to be the center of the world. And obviously, that didn’t happen because these things take a lot more time. And then now I’m a lot more humbled by knowing that some of these changes take generations and take lifetimes, but I still have my small part to play and that decision also helped me to stay true to myself, to my roots and to keep the passion you know, the fire of passion burning because, it’s easy to say that if I would’ve been in one of the top teams getting the best equipment and best coaching, I could have done a lot better professionally as an athlete, but it wouldn’t have given me all the opportunities I have today, to continue to work on this nascent Winter sports movement in India, hopefully build an academy, hopefully impact so many other young kids’ lives and things that I did over the years, you know, by training juniors and still being a person in the community whose word counts for something.
DH: So, yes, what I’m hearing is that you chose a higher purpose over personal gain and that’s commendable. So the Beijing Olympic Games are coming up in 2022, what do you see your role as? What do you envision that to be?
SK: Well now it’s been over a year since I’ve stopped being part of the circuit as an athlete. And there’s definitely a lot of you know, bittersweet moments every time I turn on the TV and see the others competing in the World Cup and you know, life has phases and I gave my best during the 22 years that I competed for India. And even during that time, I had already started to coach the younger generation of athletes and I had taken a few kids to Asian training camps for two years in a row and I think now what I can do is, you know, as an athlete you have to be selfish and thinking about yourself a lot because it’s all about self-improvement, and now I think because of my journey and because of my experience, I’m in a position to impact a lot more people and of course, my passion is still with my sport, still with the Olympic movement. So, I want to take my experience and hope to rope in other kids and maybe train them and give them some of the things that I lacked. Some of the advice that I wasn’t given, I could’ve, you know, gotten a lot better, got a lot more benefit from. So I think I understand where a young Winter sports athlete in India is at this stage and I think I’m in a position to mentor and to coach and you know, open a lot more doors and to give the right advice as to what to do, what not to do, how to concentrate and, I hope that that can be my role in the future.
DH: Right. So is that where you see your next step in sports, in the Olympic movement……developing I guess a winter sports program in your neck of the woods and putting more kids on ice?
SK: 54:13 Yes, in fact, I’m working on an ambitious project for an Olympic training center in the Himalayas, which would focus on Winter and just sports and that is something that I’m really passionate about. I’m trying to open all my contacts, people who believe in this through the reach that I have all around the world to get people together to create, the ideal environment, which I hope that I would see during my career as an athlete so, that is something that I’m really working towards. And at the same time, something else that in my experience was lacking in India, is athletes participation in the decision-making process. For so many years, I didn’t see a single athlete who was part of a sports governing body or who is part of the sports ministry or you know, people who’ve really been there, done that, have the experience, to be able to go and administer the sport. And so, I started by getting a group of Olympians together in India from various sports and telling them why don’t we come together, make a an organization, make this Olympians Association of India and through our combined knowledge through our combined experience, try to make lives better, not just for the future generation of athletes, but for society in general because of our reach as Olympians. So these are the two things that I’m mainly working with right now.
DH: That is awesome. Before we wrap up, any parting words you know, about whether it’s the projects you’re working on or just Olympism in general?
SK: Well there’s so much I’d like to share. If I can be a little selfish right now and ask people to support my initiatives to create a training center in the Himalayas, you know, I’m very easily accessible through Facebook, through Twitter, my handle is @100thofasec. You can follow me, get in touch with me and help me build this dream together. And if you’re a young athlete out there trying to get into sports, also feel free to contact me you know, I’m very happy to share my advice and my experiences. And, I guess a message to all the people out there is, if you’re looking at my journey, you know, you don’t have to copy what I did, but the message from my journey is, find something that drives you, get your own unique goal and then once you have that goal, you just keep on pushing until you reach them.
DH: You couldn’t have said it any better. It’s been such an honor to catch up with you first of all man, such a pleasure to catch up with you after all these years. 22 years is… We’re getting up there Shiva, but an honor to kind of learn more about your story and your philosophy. There is much to unpack here, much that I and our viewers our listeners can apply to their lives. It doesn’t matter how unrealistic the dream is, how limited your circumstances and the resources are, and you know, the people that you look to for inspiration, in the end, you have to carve your own path. And I think your life is a clear demonstration of that Shiva you, yes, you embody, the keep on pushing philosophy. So thanks again for joining us, gracing us with your presence and sharing your knowledge, your pearls of wisdom. And I want to wish you all the luck in your… I love it the ambitious plans that you have. So yes, keep on pushing.
SK: Thank you. Thank you so much, Devon, and then keep on inspiring everybody the way you’ve inspired me over the years.