An international debut as a teenager and an international medal clinched well within her identity as an adult ensued, Indian judoka Shushila Devi Likmabam has had her professional course eked out in distinction right from the time she took off as an aspiring athlete while still a youngster. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise though, for someone hailing from a family of judo players, it was only natural that the sport should come to find favour from a young Shushila as well. And so it did, with her informal beginnings at the age of five and a dedicated training session marking the determination of her person since a couple of years later, setting out thus on the route of a reputed consistency in courting distinction upon the judo ring.
Looking up to her former international judo player of an uncle Likmabam Dinit was how Devi took an interest in the sport. So much so that she used to travel as well with her older brother to his training center some 30 minutes away from home. Her basic training though had ensued at home itself, before she would take up formal training at the Khuman Lampak Sports Complex along with her brother. And thus she would dedicatedly attend all of those sessions every single day for years to come, even when it meant waking up at 5.30 in the morning and setting out by 6 for what would mark a journey shaping up an entire life of distinguished identity.
The journey has since been ‘convenient’ a route in treading- even when only to the extent of its coursing. The same does not however hold true for the roadblocks and the stumbles even when Devi secured for herself a future course of action that would emerge as more certain a ‘wrestling’ to win over her dream. From the local judo training center closer home to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Imphal and selected therefrom to train at the National Centre of Excellence in Patiala- Shushila Devi’s path to success might one seem reasonably scripted. But the experience that occurred through her embarking upon this concrete path to what unfolded as a dream reality would not be so easy cut after all.
That she had set out on that route even before fancying it in international sincerity might have even helped her cause in present day distinction. It was a pure love for the game that she had come to know since quite young that led Devi to practise a play of judo. And it was by virtue of this sheer interest that she managed to be so devoted to the sport that led her to shine out in the truest play of it. In Patiala’s Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports where she trained under Jiwan Sharma’s direction from 2009 to 2017 after her SAI stint under Sabitri Chanu from 2002-06, Shushila Devi stood out as a talent harbouring in herself indeed the promise of attaining many a legitimate heights of lofty success.
Born on the 1st of February 1995 into a farmer family in the north eastern state of Manipur, the physical means in availing the resources that would lead her on the sure shot path of aspiring success however would be much restricted for this young still talent of spirited existence. In fact even when she had landed a gold on her debut international appearance at the 2010 Commonwealth Junior Championship, the future path emerging from this already remarkable point of distinction would not prove to be any more viable in terms outside the direct jargon of the sport.
And yet, Devi still managed to remain steadfast in her pursuit, landing up a silver four years later in the 48kg weight class in judo at the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow. The Commonwealth event have manifested as her happy hunting ground ever since, with her latest triumph beckoning in the form of yet another silver at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games’ women’s 48 kg division.
This most recent victory of Shushila Devi scored in the global arena happens to be even more significant in both personal and national reasons of dramatic contrasts. With the win, the distinction accrued to her as being the country’s lone judoka to boast of multiple silver medals at the Games. But the preceding span of events that characterised the dawning of this historic moment had been quite a bother for the eminent athlete since quite a considerable period of time.
Financial concerns had long been threatening to derail the by then decorated career of this youngster but it would also be a definite injury scare that almost thwarted her prospects at the 2022 edition of the Games. And while a knee injury sustained during training compelled her to sit out of the team’s only exposure trip to Spain affecting thus her prep for the event, it had been specifically an alarming falling off of the stiches of her big toe right during the semifinal bout that ruined her chances of a gold.
It has been testament indeed to the dedication and perseverance of Devi that saw her still play out as competitively the finals despite the coaches and support staff being wary of that prospect in trading. That she still ended up not just competing in the summit clash but also putting up a valiant fight against her South African opponent to ultimately settle for a silver is just another demonstration of the perseverance that is what has been propelling her career all throughout.
In hailing from a family of modest means, the Heingang native had been more than aware of the hardships characterising her existence since forever. As a family of six sustained on a farm that barely produced any excess to even sell off, the Likambams had been living almost from hand to mouth. With practically no money therefore to support her aspirational inclinations, not even by the other people of her hometown who otherwise supported her unconditionally but was as limited in their living as well, Shushila have had to fend for herself most of the times. Even when it meant as substantial pursuits in exposure trips and injury treatment vital to her very identity as an international judoka, Devi always had it severely constrained with making essential ends meet.
Despite her 2014 Commonwealth success, the path ahead would be anything but smooth for the judoka dawning upon India another aspect of the sporting recognition. In 2017, Devi joined the Manipur Police which helped her indeed persist through exclusively personal attempts at funding her career. But even when she did indeed manage to embark on the Osaka trail in Japan in 2019 and the Budapest route in Hungary, what she ended up meeting with was disappointment. Failing to compete on each occasion basically for administrative reasons and on the back of a forced requirement in self funding due to the government not clearing her travel for most of the trips, the proceedings of such unfavourableness might have dispirited a far too exerted sportstar but Devi wasn’t ready to lose hope yet.
That perhaps because she had already courted disappointment of a different stature just the year before when a hamstring injury played spoilsport to her career dreams. A hamstring injury sustained during the Asian Games trial left Devi completely routed and she even stopped practising judo for three months after returning home. Particularly because she had intended the games to be a platform to inch closer to realising her Olympic dreams, this turn of events pushed her into depression.
So deeply gutted in fact was Ssuhila Devi that she even contemplated giving up the sport altogether. But what she ended up achieving instead would be the distinction of being the sole judoka to represent the country at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Her coach Jiwan Kumar Sharma would prove to be her greatest source of support and inspiration, setting up tickets and sponsors for her and ensuring that she managed to stay on track.
By her own admission itself, coach Sharma has been much of the reason behind Devi’s exploits in the sport. With also a Gold Medal at the 2019 South Asian Games and silvers at the Hong Kong Asia Open in 2018 and 2019 in her kitty, apart from a bronze at the 2015 Junior Asian Championships, Ssuhila Devi has come a long way indeed. With father Manihar Singh not supporting his daughter’s desire to be a judo player, Devi however found her mother Chaobi Devi having her back.
And thus she set out on her journey of what had been a childhood fascination beginning with pillion riding her now BSF employed brother Shilakshi Singh for some 10 kms every day to arrive upon a current globetrotting routine in both physical and reputative assertion of her judoka identity, accounting for this nearly two decade long span of continuous presence upon the regional, national and international arena as a judoka worth her weight indeed in consistent a claim to sporting fame. Acclaimed today even more in distinction as being one of the recipients of the prestigious Arjuna Award in 2022, Shushila Devi Likbamam stands as a living standard of success herself.