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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala helps India's top athletes when they're at their most vulnerable

·6 min read

Like a chess player reaching into his memory and remembering an entire match in the past, Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala recalls the results, right down to minute details, of a boxing tournament.

Only, Dr Pardiwala is not remembering his own career. He's piecing together, from memory, the results of one of India's top boxers, Akhil Kumar, after performing a career-saving procedure on him.

From wrestlers Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar to shuttlers Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, Dr Pardiwala has played a role in helping many of India's Olympic medallists at a time when they're arguably at their most vulnerable.


He's also helped some athletes who will be in action at the Tokyo Olympics in a month's time, such as wrestler Vinesh Phogat, who he helped through what was termed as a career-threatening injury, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra's (elbow in 2019) and boxer Manish Kaushik (bicep in June 2020).

Vinesh suffered a knee injury at Rio 2016 in the quarter-finals against an opponent from China, Sun Yanan, and had to be stretchered off the mat.

"We've had many athletes who've had really bad injuries and have then come back from those. We've had many big success stories," Dr Pardiwala told Firstpost. "The one which I think is the most prominent would be the Vinesh one. She had an injury which in most circumstances would be career-ending. A knee injury is a particularly bad injury. It's an injury for which you need immediate treatment. Even after the surgery, you need things to go really, really well. The rehab needs to go well. The motivational commitment from the athlete needs to be there for a prolonged period of time. That's where it gets difficult.

"That's why she has done extremely well (to emerge stronger from the injury). I think this is one of the most challenging situations which she has managed to come out of. That too in a surprisingly quick recovery time. She was back within six months on the mat, and then won a silver at the 2017 Asian Wrestling Championships. So this was probably one of the most challenging cases but there have been so many like that. So many wrestlers, so many boxers."

At Tokyo 2020, Vinesh is one of India's top medal contenders on the wrestling mat.

"With the man who got me back on my feet! Gave me the belief that I could come back stronger on to the wrestling mat and someone who motivated me everyday!" she said in a tweet in 2018 along with a picture of Dr Pardiwala.

Doctors don't play favourites. But Dr Pardiwala, who heads the Centre for Sports Medicine at Mumbai's Kokilaben Dhirubai Ambani Hospital, has a few chosen memories that he remembers fondly from years of resurrecting the careers of some of the top Indian athletes.

"We had a boxer (Manish Kaushik) who had just made the cut for the Tokyo Olympics. But right after that, he picked up an injury when he was abroad. Then the COVID-19 problem happened, which necessitated a severe lockdown. It was tough for him and his team to even return to India.

"Unfortunately, when he landed in India amid the chaos and confusion that was going on, he was not able to report to us for four months after the injury. He was in a bad state. But despite the lockdown, we needed to operate on him. After doing that surgery, I was really apprehensive whether he would be good enough to get back to boxing because it was a delayed surgery: it needed to be operated on within weeks, and we actually operated on it after months. But he did his rehab process well. And at his first international tournament, he won gold. He called me minutes after the gold medal bout to remind me what he had told me when he was injured, 'You do your best, I'll do mine. And here I am with my gold medal.'"

Dr Pardiwala is quick to emphasise that it's not just he who should be credited for an athlete getting back to the mat.

"The number of athletes who have come back successfully from such severe injuries also speaks of the advances that sports medicine has done: be it in sports arthroscopy or sports orthopaedics or sports rehabilitation," he said before adding that his team's work with athletes doesn't just end with patching them up with a surgery.

His team constantly monitors athletes they have worked with and even regularly keeps in touch with their personal physios.

Earlier this month, Dr Pardiwala was named in the core committee of the Central Athlete Injury Management System (CAIMS), which was launched by the Sports Authority of India.

"Sports medicine is not just about treating an injury. That's not the end of it. It's also about making sure that fitness levels are maintained, and also preventing these injuries from taking place. Keeping track of their progress, their strength and conditioning and their fitness levels is really important. That's where the CAIMS which has been set up by Sports Authority of India is so critical. This is going to revolutionise the way injuries are managed in India for top-level athletes," he said.

Stories written on him often focus on the memorabilia gifted to him by athletes, who he has helped heal, that are displayed in his office at KDA Hospital.

But the real validation for him comes not from these mementoes, priceless as they are, but from small gestures from athletes.

"Akhil Kumar, one of India's best boxers ever, had a wrist injury many years ago. The injury meant that he was sidelined for quite some time. We had to do a wrist arthroscopic procedure on him. At that time, it was a career-saving procedure. It was critical for him to come back, and do it quickly, because it was his last opportunity to get to the Olympics. After the procedure, we thought it was going to take at least six months but he came back within three-and-a-half months or so. He then went for the Asian qualifying tournament where he not only won gold, he was the boxer of the tournament besides sealing his Olympic berth for Beijing 2008. He came back and met me with his medal. I remember him telling me 'Now that I'm in the Olympics, I'm going to win a medal for India.'

"In the second round of the Beijing Olympics, he beat the reigning world champion (Russia's Sergey Vodopyanov). In the quarters, he lost a very close bout. He called me a few hours after that. He was inconsolable at that point. He said he was sorry he promised a medal and he could not do it. But he thanked for helping him at least give this Olympic dream a go. These are tough moments, but these are also moments which remind you that the things that you do, the surgeries that you do, are going to change the lives of these athletes."

Also See: Tokyo Olympics 2020: Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Deepak Punia and Ravi Kumar seeded in respective categories

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