Winning with passion and gritNational table tennis player Sikka Suwal Shrestha talks about her sports journey and how setbacks make her work even harder.
Nepal’s Sikka Suwal Shrestha faced off against Bangladesh’s Rahima Akter at the 13th South Asian Games in 2019. Playing in front of home fans, Shrestha was under pressure to deliver a medal for her nation. She felt her grit slowly slipping away when she was behind in the game as the score read Bangladesh-10 and Nepal-6. The visiting nation’s player needed one point to clinch the game, but when Shrestha realised that her opponent was trying to finish the game off quickly, she decided to play the waiting game.
She refrained from aggressive moves, allowing the Bangladeshi player to counterattack. Despite being behind, Shrestha remained composed. In a surprising turn of events, she managed to tie the score. As she prepared to serve, her natural aggressiveness took over, and she delivered a powerful shot, securing a bronze medal for Nepal.
“I am a naturally aggressive player,” Shrestha says. “So the way I finished the game was the icing on the cake,”
Born in Dharan in 2000, Shrestha has been athletic since childhood. Growing up, when asked what she wanted to do with her life, she always replied she wanted to be a sportsperson. “I had no idea which sport in particular, but I saw myself doing nothing other than sports,” she says.
Even though she was born in Dharan, she spent her childhood in Gorkha. “My family has an athletic history, as everyone has been involved in sports one way or another,” she says. Her nurturing in such an environment introduced her to the world of sports early on. Following in her father’s footsteps, who played basketball, she decided to play the same sport. “I also used to play a lot of football when I was growing up,” she recalls.
After completing seventh grade, she moved to Kathmandu and enrolled in Bal Deeksha Sadan School in Gwarko. She continued playing basketball and even helped her school win an inter-school basketball tournament.
However, a persistent ankle injury hindered her sports journey. The pain from her ankle troubles led her to leave the basketball court and compelled her to take up other outdoor sports.
One day, she wandered into a table tennis court and was captivated by the precision and skill of the players.
It was during this time that Mohandas Vasukala, the table tennis coach at her school, noticed her interest and encouraged her to explore table tennis further. Encouraged by this, she left behind the basketball court and immersed herself in table tennis.
“Vasukala sir pushed me to pursue the sport, and I am thankful to him,” she says. She began to play every day at school and even joined the Lalitpur Table Tennis Club to practise more on weekends.
While training at the Bal Kumari club, she caught the eye of Purushottam Bajracharya, a national player who worked as a coach at the club. Bajracharya noticed her potential and assured the 9th-grade student of admission with a scholarship to Adarsha Vidya Mandir School (AVM) for the 10th grade. She happily took the offer, and in 2015, she joined the school, making the most of the opportunity by training three times a day. That transition proved fruitful to her because to this day, she credits the school for making her the athlete she is today.
“This school cares not just about education but sports as well. There is a futsal ground, a basketball court, a table tennis court and so much,” she says, and because of her training and support from coach, being part of that school played a big hand in her career.
All the hours of training proved worthwhile, as in 2017, she got to participate in the Asian Junior Championship held in Pakistan. This, she claims, was a turning point in her career and her gateway to international sports.
The following year, she received an offer to play in the second-division league in Austria. However, she couldn’t obtain a visa to participate.
However, 2019 proved to be a memorable year for her as she made her debut in the senior team at the Asian Championship held in Indonesia. Moreover, she also secured her place in the senior side for the 13th South Asian Games (SAG) that was hosted by Nepal. Her dramatic win in the SAG tournament secured Nepal a bronze medal.
“In the last two editions, the Nepali table tennis women’s team had not won a medal,” she said, which made the victory even sweeter. Describing what that day meant for her, she says, “The chanting of the audience, the support of my team members and my parents’ presence at the game is something I will never forget,”
It was all going well, and she was looking forward to much bigger tournaments in the coming years, but an off-the-field incident set her back. While giving an interview to a news media, she had expressed her dissatisfaction towards the Table Tennis Association and National Sports Council. This statement of hers didn’t sit right with one of the officers working in the governing bodies and he started giving her mental torture.
This took a toll on her and Shrestha began taking medications. She stopped playing for a while. However, she pushed through and is still striving to better herself. She couldn’t let this stop her, so she picked herself up and began training even harder.
As a result, when the 9th National Games took place in 2022, she won medals across many tennis categories, including doubles and singles. She also participated in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, in 2023.
Currently, Shrestha coaches aspiring table tennis students at AVM school. “There are so many kids who are passionate about the sport and AVM provides an excellent platform for these students,” she says, adding, “As the school prioritises sports, it has good resources, coaches and areas separated for various sports such as football, basketball and table tennis.”
On Sunday, she was announced as the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the NSJF Pulsar Sports Award. “I am grateful for the award, but for me, the real reward is playing the game and representing my country. I will continue to do so in the upcoming days with great enthusiasm,” she says.