Suhas Yathiraj lives by the philosophy of ‘sports help you conquer your own self’. And he lived by his own words by clinching a silver medal in Badminton at the Tokyo Paralympics. Significantly, his achievement also helped break a common stereotype in India that does not equate sporting excellence with academics.
Yathiraj is an officer in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), having achieved success in one of the toughest examinations in the country at the very first attempt. In fact, candidates often sacrifice years in pursuit of excellence in the Civil Service examinations and attempt it multiple times.
Yathiraj graduated in computer engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Surathkal, Karnataka in 2004. The bright Yathiraj went on to clear the Civil Services examination in 2006 and then began his career as an IAS officer in 2007.
It was only in 2015-16 that he turned into a professional para-badminton player and has since then been managing his duty as the District Magistrate of Gautam Buddha Nagar and his training as a sportsperson to good effect.
Yathiraj, who has an impairment to his ankle, overcame the challenges thrown at him to excel in badminton. And he has several international achievements to his name. He became the first-ever serving Indian bureaucrat to represent and win a medal for India at the global level when he won gold at the 2016 Asian Para Badminton Championship. That journey has now taken him to the Paralympics where he was just beaten in the final of the SL4 category men’s singles by Lucas Mazur of France.
“I think the myth that studies and sports can’t be pursued together has been broken. Many are surprised that a person can be good in both studies and sports.
“Parents also want their children to be good in studies and sports. They look at studies as the more stable option. I think many of the youth can at least get the confidence to pursue both,” he added.
The celebration at home around his achievement at the Paralympics medal also makes him believe that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics was a watershed moment for India as it helped to develop a sporting culture.
“The amount of support, love that everyone is showing is great. There was a time when celebrities in the country used to be film stars and only cricketers,” Yathiraj said.
“But I think now, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics would be a watershed moment in the history of India, because of the amount of adulation and recognition the Olympians and Paralympians are getting. I think it’s definitely heart-warming,” he added.
And badminton remains a spiritual experience for him. He, however, is extremely methodical in his approach towards the sport and likes to work on its crucial details.
“Badminton is meditation for me. I am extremely methodical, I develop my attack skills, defense skills, my reach. I work minutely on that part and also how I would cope up in the match. I visualize matches in my head. So yeah, I do have methods that give me comfort while playing,” Yathiraj explained.
Moreover, he is not active on social media and stays away from it, in part because of his professional role and because he believes that it doesn’t add value to his life.
“I am not at all a reserved person. Because of the administrative job that I hold. I have intentionally kept myself away from social media because I don’t see any value addition through it. I have always believed that we should not go behind fame or money or anything,” Yathiraj said.
Yathiraj, 38, also considers the silver medal at Tokyo Paralympics will motivate him to go one better at Paris Paralympics in 2024.