Five years ago, Ashi Chouksey recalled, she had looked for something to break away the monotony of her daily routine. Something that would help her bunk school and get some time away from the academic pursuits that had consumed her. She found an escape in the National Cadet Corps, which included sport shooting.
The 20-year-old from Bhopal will now compete at the ISSF World Championships in Cairo, Egypt, representing the Indian senior team for the first time at this level in her young career.
Chouksey, till date, has a couple of senior World Cup medals to her name – a gold in the 50m 3-Positions mixed team event (Baku 2022) and bronze in women’s team event of the same discipline from the competition in Changwon earlier this year. She has also won two bronze medals from the Junior World Cup, Suhl, from earlier this year – one each from the individual and women’s team events.
Her target now is a quota for the 2024 Paris Olympics. But she’s not letting the pressure of expectations affect her too much.
“As an individual shooter, I may be a senior, but since I’ve been shooting for only five years, I know I’m still not that experienced,” she told Scroll.in. “No matter what happens now, I know there is a long road ahead for me.”
Her journey as a shooter started in 2017, in Panchmarhi, a hill station 200 kilometres south east of Bhopal.
“The school I was in put a lot of emphasis on academics, but I wasn’t keen on following that,” Chouksey said. “My school had the NCC program from Class 9. Class bunk karne ke liye maine join kiya (I signed up to try and skip class).”
At her first NCC camp in Panchmarhi she, along with the 100 other cadets, were handed rifles and told to shoot at a target placed 50 metres away. They were given a few quick safety instructions, and then given five shots each. Chouksey doesn’t quite remember the score, but she reckoned she had scored over 45 out of a possible 50 – impressive scores for someone who had never held the weapon before. So good that it prompted the camp commander to have a word with her about her performance.
“He asked me if I had ever shot before and I told him this was my first time. He started laughing and said ‘aap jhoot bol rahe hai (you are lying),’ she recalled the conversation.
“He then told me that this is something I could do as a career. That was a very big thing for me. When I told my family, they were all very supportive. They said let’s explore this. It was handy that the Madhya Pradesh Academy in Bhopal is around 15 minutes or so from my place. So, we went for the selection trials. There were around 225 candidates and they selected just two people - I was one of them.”
Since then her academic pursuit was overshadowed by her sporting endeavours – though not entirely. The third year student is working towards a Bachelors of Physical Education and Sports degree from the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. But that’s only when she’s not in training.
Yet all those early years as a disciplined student in the classroom has given her a habit of taking meticulous post-session notes.
One of the most important pieces of equipment in her kit is the stray diary she found around her house.
“Everyday, at the end of a session I go home and write down my scores and thoughts in my notebook. My scores, what was my position, my focus. If ever I’m in trouble, I just refer to my diary to see what went well on a day when it was all going nicely. The diary, I keep it with me in my kit,” she said.
“It’s a diary someone gave to my father (who works in the railways) in office. The diary has the 2020 calendar dates on it. It looks quite ordinary, but it’s important for me, and the information is invaluable.”
Right now she’s looking to gain more experience as a shooter, as she steadily tries to perfect her craft in a discipline that demands a mix of great deal of endurance and precision. But she knows that on any given day, she has it in her to surprise the field.
“Before tournaments, I try to keep myself distracted and busy to the point that I don’t feel the pressure of competition. At the end of the day, I know I’m my biggest competition.”