Stories of success often inspire, but those emanating from humble backgrounds and laced with struggle elicit a different emotion: They make you believe. Growing up, 15-year-old Maneesha Keer never thought that fishing and sport could be spoken of in the same breath. Three years ago, she would begin her day by accompanying her father to a section of Bhopal’s Upper Lake, where Kailash Keer would net fish and sell them in the city’s market to earn a living. This was before Maneesha’s elder sister Soniya took her to the Madhya Pradesh Shooting Academy, where shotgun trials were being conducted, the reason being Maneesha’s fascination towards rifles. It was here that young Maneesha was spotted by former Olympian Mansher Singh, the academy’s head coach, who was overseeing proceedings. Mansher asked the teenager to take aim. Like a consummate professional, Maneesha picked up a rifle and hit the target. This was the beginning of a fascinating chapter in her life. Once a daughter helping her father for their family’s survival, Maneesha is a bonafide shooter and Indian medal hope for the 2020 Olympics. In three years, she has participated in three national and two international events. If that isn’t surprising enough, consider that she has already won ten gold medals. How’s that for inspirational? In May 2016, Maneesha bagged gold at the Junior Shotgun Cup in Finland. It was only her second tournament abroad. She was expectedly elated, for there is no better way to celebrate an Under-16 international event than returning home with the highest honour. A shy and soft-spoken girl to whom words of self praise don’t come naturally, Maneesha revealed a little of her remarkable journey to TOI Sports in the surroundings of her humble Goragaon home. “In 2013, I went for trials at the newly-inaugurated stadium and got selected. I began training after which a few more shooters and I qualified for a national event. However, I couldn’t make it to the Indian team in the first attempt since I came fifth and lagged behind by a few points,” she says. “Before the next national event, I trained quite hard. I would practically spend the whole day at the academy with a firm motive of making it to the Indian team. By the end of it, I was able to secure a national berth, finishing third in the ranking. We had won two gold medals in that tournament.” Within a year, Maneesha got her first international ticket – the U-16 Shooting World Cup in Italy. But it proved a tough nut for her to crack and the Indian contingent returned home empty-handed. Maneesha admits she was facing a few technical flaws, and for that she went to coach Mansher for advice. A long-standing veteran who participated in five straight Olympics, Mansher knew exactly what her problem was: diet. Because Maneesha was thin, she wasn’t able to lift or position her rifle as well as she would have liked to. As her meal input improved, so did the outcome. “It all culminated in me winning five gold medals in the national shotgun championship in Jaipur,” she reveals. Maneesha is the fourth of eight siblings – five sisters and three brothers – and being part of a family whose previous two generations have been fishers, the thought of pursuing shooting as a career never crossed her mind. That seven of the eight Keer siblings haven’t studied beyond eighth standard meant that continuing the family tradition of survival was always going to be the first choice. And yet it was Kailash who was adamant that his children not have to do what he and those before him were forced to.
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