(Jun 4, 2023) Three years ago during the time of lockdown when shooter Tilottama Sen’s father had introduced the idea of shooting to her, she had thought he was talking about film shooting. He wanted the then eleven year old to stop ‘wasting time’ in mobile games and cartoons. Since he had tried his hand at shooting during his college days in Nagaland, he thought that it would be a productive way to keep his daughter engaged.
“When he said shooting, I thought that movie-wala shooting and I was like ‘no way! I don’t know how to act!” Tilottama said laughing during an interview.
In just three years from then, the youngster has come a long way. This year she won a bronze medal for India at the women’s 10mn Air Rifle competition, at International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup in Cairo, Egypt.
Getting introduced to shooting
“The only time Tilottama had picked a gun before her father introduced the idea of shooting to her was at an event at his office where the employees’ families were also invited. Along with other fun activities, there was a balloon-popping competition which Tilottama had enjoyed and had even won.
During the lockdown when her father took her to the shooting range in Bengaluru’s Electronic City she found it interesting but was not very hooked.
“In my first six months, I was still not serious about the sport. I used to go, I used to come back,” she said. “But then I got my first kit, then I moved onto a better [range] rifle. Slowly, I saw the improvement.”
After six months of training the youngster watched an interview of Olympian Apurvi Chandela who said she was training under coach Rakesh in Bengaluru. Since Tillotma hails from the city she got in touch with Rakesh who helped her hone her skills further.
Tilottama made rapid strides thereafter. Her win at International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup in Cairo stands as a testimony to her hard work and dedication under the guidance of her coach.
The impressive journey
Though her father Sujit had thought of shooting as ‘just a nice experience for his daughter’ the more she started getting engrossed in it, the more he realised it’s a costly game. The TechMahindra employee had to dig into his provident fund and retirement savings to invest in Tilottama’s equipment. Just the rifle cost was ₹2.65 lakhs. Added to that there were other expenses like a new kit (including shoes and gloves), and new pellets. But he kept on investing, looking at how his daughter’s scores were shooting up one event after another.
Tillotama got so immersed in the love of the game that her daily training increased from an hour to six hours a day.
In her first state meet in 2021, she shot a 396 (out of 400). In her pre-national south zone meet she shot 398 out of 400. The same year Karnataka association conducted another state meet and Tilottama upped her performance with 400/400. “It was amazing,” she remarked.
In 2022 the shooter performed well at nationals – selection trial 1 and selection trial 2 earning entry into the senior Indian team and winning a silver in the National Games.
However, her journey is not just about spectacular wins but heart-breaking setbacks as well. At her first nationals in 2021 Tilottama had finished 63rd, unsettled by the travel and the newness of the game. At her first international tournament, a Junior World Cup, she had finished 43rd. But during her setbacks she learnt her lessons and surged ahead with the learnings.
The heights that she has reached in her short career so far has been due to her ability to learn from her mistakes and to remain dedicated. “I used to watch my seniors’ videos a lot. I have seen the videos of all the Indian team players from 2017-19,” she said.
The first international win
Talking about winning Bronze at ISSF World Cup in Cairo the young shooter said, “”I think I managed it really well (in the face of a challenge).”
“The cheek piece on the rifle had broken and the screws in the butt piece (which is at the shoulder of the shooter) had come loose (in the transit)”, she said. “I was not able to understand what to change (in the first round).” However later she was able to identify the problem and address it. But due to the initial hiccup she had to be satisfied with a bronze.
Help from Reliance Foundation
The Sen family has managed to get help from Reliance Foundation. Tilottama was the only one in the senior team without a replacement gun in Cairo. A new secondary rifle has got sponsored by the foundation recently.
The foundation has helped in other ways too, taking care of all round development of the athlete under the guidance of experienced coaches, dieticians and psychologists.
Tillotama is all set to make her country proud in the upcoming Asian Games in September. Her ultimate aim is to perform well at the Paris Olympics in 2024. Only three years into the game her journey has just begun.