Underweight once, Achinta Sheuli does heavy lifting to extend India’s golden run at Commonwealth Games weightlifting

A dilapidated brick structure stands out among the wild bushes and overgrown trees. A lone cow bellows at a stable on the right. A giant tricolor hangs on the wall by the porch, where five young women and men are pumping iron. The ‘platform’ they stand on is uneven, the barbells and metal plates are rusted and stained, torn cloths are tied to the roof to protect them from sun and rain.

Nothing really gives the impression that champions can be produced in this unassuming facility in Deulpur, about an hour from Kolkata. But this is where Achinta Sheuli – a World Junior Championship medalist and national record holder who won India’s third gold medal at the Commonwealth Games on Sunday with a Games Record of 313 kg (143 kg in snatch, 170 kg in clean and jerk) – his journey began .

“When I first saw Achinta, he was very skinny and didn’t look like a weightlifter at all,” says Sheuli’s youth coach Astam Das, who lives at this makeshift gym. “But he had speed which is very important for an athlete in any competition.”

Exactly ten years ago, Sheuli first walked into this makeshift facility, following in the footsteps of his older brother Alok. “We were preparing for the Nationals when our father died in 2013 and our financial condition deteriorated,” says Alok. “I was in my second year of college when this happened and the responsibility of being my family’s breadwinner fell on my shoulders, so I had to drop out of college.”

The Sheulis live not far from Das’ house and gym. It is a modest house with bright green interiors in a tight lane. Sheuli hasn’t spent much time here in the past five to six years. “Less than 30 days in the past few years,” Alok says, pointing to the room where the champion lifter spent his life. It now stands abandoned, but as his mother, Purnima, recalls, “Everything he accomplished and started from here.”

achinta sheuli, achinta sheuli cwg, achinta sheuli weightlifter, achinta sheuli india, achinta sheuli cwg, achinta sheuli commonwealth play, commonwealth play, commonwealth play 2022, The Sheulis live not far from Das’ house and gym. It is a modest house with bright green interiors in a tight lane. (Credit: Sayak Dutta)

However, it started with Alok looking at a bodybuilding completion, becoming fascinated by it and “wanting to do something along those lines.” So Purnima took her oldest son to a gym that Das ran. A few years later, Sheuli joined his brother.

“He was the one who took Achinta and me under his wing,” says Alok, referring to Das, a former national-level weightlifter who retired early due to a back injury. “He trained us for free. He is so dedicated to his craft that he even gave up a job at BSF for it.”

After leaving BSF, Das never took a full-time job for fear it would eat up his coaching time. Sheuli, he says, was weak and underweight when he first joined him ten years ago. “(But) One of the things that made him stand out is his appetite for the game. He doesn’t give up easily,” Days says. “I had so many players who were physically better than him, but he was the one who reached for the stars because of his never-say-die attitude.”

Because the family had very limited resources, Das stepped in and supported Sheuli with lifting equipment and nutritious food. “He used to train very hard, but because of their financial condition, it was difficult for him to maintain a good diet. I always told him to slow down and have good food or else he would get sick. Then he went to the army institute and received the necessary support there,” adds Das.

The move to Army Sports Institute, in 2014, was the turning point.

It came after Sheuli gave a glimpse of his abilities at the 2013 Junior National Championships in Guwahati. While they were still dealing with the sudden passing of their father, the weightlifting fire still burned deep within both Alok and Achinta. “We both competed in Junior Nationals in 2013 in Guwahati and Achinta came in fourth,” says Alok.

achinta sheuli, achinta sheuli cwg, achinta sheuli weightlifter, achinta sheuli india, achinta sheuli cwg, achinta sheuli commonwealth play, commonwealth play, commonwealth play 2022, The makeshift gym where Achinta started. (Credit: Sayak Dutta)

His performance was good enough to be noticed by the coaches of the Army Sports Institute and he was called for a trial in 2014. “He was the only one selected from West Bengal,” says Alok. “After being selected, he left the local high school in Deulpur in grade 6 and completed his studies at the Army Sports Institute. He then took part in the National Youth Games in Haryana and placed 3rd. He then joined the army and in 2015 he received a letter from the Indian camp. He took silver at the Youth Commonwealth Games hosted in Pune.”

This was the start of a road littered with medals in the Junior Youth Nationals, Junior Asian Championships, Junior World Championships, Senior Nationals and the Commonwealth Championships, before taking the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games on Sunday. “He was also in the 2020 Olympic qualifying round, but he missed it by 0.02 points,” says Alok.

The consistent results across all age groups, making Sheuli one of the hottest young prospects in Indian weightlifting, hardly surprises Alok, who saw firsthand how an accidental interest in the sport turned into a total obsession.

“When we were in school, Achinta lifted weights from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. without eating anything. He would then come back, have some food and go to school. He returned at 4:00 PM, ate fena bhaat (rice congee) and a hard-boiled egg, and went back to training. He would train until 7pm and then come back,” says Alok. “He was very stubborn. I always told him that we don’t have much and that lifting weights is the only thing that can make us anything. That became his mantra.”

achinta sheuli, achinta sheuli cwg, achinta sheuli weightlifter, achinta sheuli india, achinta sheuli cwg, achinta sheuli commonwealth play, commonwealth play, commonwealth play 2022, Achinta’s mother Purnima Sheuli and brother Alok Sheuli. (Credit: Sayak Dutta)

After the death of their father, the whole family got involved in a small embroidery business to meet their financial needs.

“We couldn’t offer enough for him (Achinta). When he went to the Nationals we gave him Rs 500 as pocket money and he was so happy with it,” Alok recalled. “When he was in Pune I worked for a charging company and was able to send him some money so he could continue his education. We did not eat ourselves but made sure that Achinta was well fed there.”

Alok is a contract worker with the fire service and still has a dream of becoming big on the weightlifting stage. However, at the moment he is living his dream vicariously through his brother who seemed poised to achieve greater things.

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