PETALING JAYA: A new home, a lovely wife and a revived determination.
Life has indeed taken a different direction for national high jumper and Olympian Nauraj Singh Randhawa as he uproots himself from Malaysia to start anew in Germany.
The big leap has heightened his drive to qualify for his second Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
Last month on Oct 16, Nauraj made one of the biggest decisions when he got married to his sweetheart and school teacher Irina Kuhltau. He has also moved to Leipzig since September this year, to train under coach Jan May.
“I met my wife in 2018 during one of the tours in the city and I popped the question last year, we initially planned to get married on Aug 15 after the Tokyo Olympics but changed our plan after the Games was postponed, ” said Nauraj.
“I will stay in Germany from now on. I’ve to admit this is a big and scary move. I don’t speak the language and there are many other things to consider.
“But this is where I want to nurture my family and take my athletics career to greater heights. It’s a challenge but I’m ready. I’m even progressing in the language!”
Nauraj said his wife meant the world to him as she had come into his life at a time when he was dealing with failure in his athletics career.
He had performed poorly at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games - just two years after enjoying a high when he made his debut at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“I walked into the Commonwealth Games as a medal contender but performed poorly. Everyday, I had to deal with articles and comments on my poor show. I even labeled myself as a failure. It was a rough time, physically and mentally, ” he said.
“My wife helped me find myself through the hardships.”
Now that the dark period in his career is over, Nauraj hopes to get the balancing act between family life and sporting career right.
“Athletics is my rice bowl. I train on weekdays here and help out with the house chores too – like a house husband, ” said Nauraj, who cycles to the training ground.
Nauraj currently funds his own training although he is hoping for the National Sports Council (NSC) to extend a helping hand.
“I’ve submitted all my plans and I’m waiting for NSC to get back. I’m clear with my goal - that’s to qualify for the Olympics, ” he said.
The indoor competition season in Germany will start from Dec 1, which is part of the Olympics qualifiers, and Nauraj can’t wait to raise the bar as far his performance is concerned after the Covid-19 pandemic had interrupted his progress.
“I barely competed this year and for four months (March to June), I was at my parents house in Johor Baru during the movement control order doing nothing. I remember going out to jog but policemen on a motorcycle told me to get back home, ” he said.
“Here in Germany, life goes on, in the midst of Covid-19. My coach Jan has been basically shaping me back from scratch and I believe, with all the support here, I can perform even stronger than before, ” he said.
Nauraj, who has a personal best of 2.21m, has to meet the 2.33m qualifying mark to qualify for the Olympics by June.
He can also qualify if he finishes within top 32 in the world by June but right now, he is ranked 46th while his compatriot Lee Hup Wei is at the 17th position.
While acknowledging that the road ahead of him is full of hurdles, Nauraj vows to show that training abroad can make a difference.
“It’s an invaluable experience. I would advise youngsters to be open to training abroad as it broadens ones’ mindset. It has shaped me to the man I am today, ” he said.
And Nauraj said he would not change anything in his pursuit to athletics excellence.
“I took up the sport when I was 9 and arrived in Bukit Jalil Sports School when I was 16. I did not get to meet my family much over the years, there have been many sacrifices and it has never been easy, ” he said.
“I’m glad that I got to spend time with my family during the lockdown to make up for all the lost time... I will always miss them.
“But there have been many memorable moments too...qualifying for the Olympics was unforgettable. I was competing in my event at the last Olympics when Usain Bolt of Jamaica won his last gold medal in the Games.
Judging by Nauraj’s determination to get back on track, he may get to jump in his second Olympics. And what an inspiration he will be for young Malaysians wanting to soar to greater heights.