What Tarun Dhillon lost in time, he gained in perspective.
Two ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries to his left knee – the first in the final of the World Championships in 2019, the second during Paralympic qualifying in early 2020 — could have destroyed his morale, but the Indian SL4 player stayed the course. Now, with the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics coming up, the two-time world champion feels fit and confident about his chances for the title, without any hint of regret at those painful episodes.
When the injury happened for the first time – it was in Basel, when he was 14-13 against Lucas Mazur in the TOTAL BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2019 final – Dhillon says he was “really scared”. The second injury, to the same knee in February 2020, was just as frustrating, but thanks to expert advice and the support of a foundation called Go Sports, Dhillon made his way back.
“The first time it was in the final of the World Championships. I felt physically at my peak when I got injured in my left knee. Go Sports Foundation helped me with the rehabilitation programme, they gave me all the necessary scientific support and I recovered. But after the second time when I got injured I was a little disheartened, that I was doing my bit and I was working hard and I’m doing all these things on myself. But after the second time I realised that I have to be patient with this, with the right approach and knowledge.
“If I look at the brighter side, the positive side, I get to know all these things, I get to learn about the rehabilitation and how to prevent injuries. So I think
I get to learn so much from this, so I think it’s alright, I have recovered from it.
“So yeah, I’m fully recovered and I’ve been training for the past few months now and I feel pretty confident about the Paralympics.”
When the second injury happened, in the men’s singles SL4 semifinal of the Peru Para Badminton International, Dhillon thought he’d missed the ticket to the Paralympics, which was initially scheduled for last year. The lockdown months were spent in rehab, and it was six months before he could return to court. The postponement of the Paralympics was therefore a huge relief.
“It was scary. I think I consider myself lucky in that respect. I got a good physiotherapist. We were trying hard, we didn’t know if the Paralympics would be postponed or not. So I was preparing for it, I wanted to be in good shape in six months. But when I got to know that it was postponed it was a relief.
“From the beginning, I immediately started with my rehabilitation programme and I had all the support from my physiotherapist and my psychologist and my coaches. I was at home, but I was doing my rehabilitation programme throughout the lockdown. I used to wake up at 8am daily and have breakfast and start my session at 9am. I had in mind that I have to come back and recover from my injury. So that time was spent well, I got to learn all these things, how to keep myself fit, and I got to work on my body and how to do physical training as well. So I got to learn all these things when I was away from badminton.
“After Peru it was six months before I started playing a little bit, when I started feeling that I was recovering well. So the starting process was very, very slow and I had to be patient. After some time when I knew that I was getting better and in shape I started pushing myself on the ground. Six months after the injury I started playing and I was on track with badminton.
“I think more than physically it takes a toll on the mental fitness because the process is very slow. And sometimes it’s frustrating to be doing the same thing again and again and again. It takes patience. But you know, like I said, I get to learn these things as well. I think for the long term. I know now how to work on myself, how to be patient, and I can play for longer years in my sports career. That’s a good thing. I get to learn all these things.”
Having overcome two serious injuries to the same knee, Dhillon is thrilled at achieving his dream of making the Paralympics.
“It’s a good feeling. Especially as I was struggling with injury, I was hoping that I get selected and I was working hard for it. I’ve been playing internationally since 2013, and I’ve always wanted to participate in the Paralympics. So it feels good that I’m back to good fitness level good and peak of my game and I feel it’s a good opportunity to do well this time.”