AN INVINCIBLE BEAU IDÉAL
Born in an agrarian family of Raikawar Bichawa in Kanchanpur, Deepak Bista was an ideal son from a very young age. But with just two options of either studying to be an engineer or taking over the family’s farm, Bista took a different reroute — a reroute that made him the indisputable taekwondo champion, not only in Nepal but the whole of South Asia. Currently busy working as the head coach of the national taekwondo team, the invincible taekwondoin opened up to TNM about how he copes a million Nepalis’ dreams, his mental process on and off the mat, and even about how he’s raising his young boys right.
Sportspersons are usually too conscious about their public image to be truly candid, and tend to steer clear of anything remotely personal. But to our surprise, Bista was in a chatty mood. From the very first point of conversation itself, he took us on a whirlwind journey of how an unknown boy from a rural village in Nepal went on to become invincible in the South Asian region. “People usually take it by surprise when I tell them that the very first sport I played was volleyball and not taekwondo,” he says. “Back in the days, volleyball was the only sport we had exposure to. Even that was limited since senior students would hardly allow us to touch the ball. So I practised by making a ball of old socks. By the time I was in class eight, I was already winning competitions,” he adds. Bista slowly established himself as one of the most prominent young volleyball player in his district, where his team even won the ‘Birendra Running Shield’.
However, one of the main hurdles was convincing his parents to continue playing volleyball as they did not see it as a right career for him. He was often discouraged from going out to practice, instead he was expected to either study or help his parents in household chores and farm. “I’ve had to go compete in different tournaments without asking my parents, often times even telling them a lie, which would later result in me getting punishments,” he remembers. He never deviated from sports as he felt at home whenever he was playing. With time, it got a little easier as he was transferred to another school which was away from home. “After moving schools, I didn’t have to work in the field so I was availed with more time to practice and play,” says Bista. “As a result, I invested more time in volleyball, which in turn helped me establish myself as one of the unbeatable volleyball players in the whole of the Far Western Region.”
From volleyball court to taekwondo mat
Despite having good players, his team got defeated in a regional level volleyball competition and the very incident turned out to be a game-changer in his sporting career. “It was a very depressing incident for me and I actually cried all night. I wanted to have a future in sports but I realised that an individual’s effort can never make a team successful. This very zeal made me give up on volleyball,” he reveals.
He had already passed his SLC and was pursuing ISc (Intermediate of Science) by the time he gave up on volleyball. He also started teaching at a private school in Dhangadhi, a neighbouring city where they eventually migrated to. While teaching there, he delved into a new sport that he thought he could shine at — Taekwondo. “I was 19 years old when I joined Dhangadhi Taekwondo Dojang. My guru, Gobinda Bista, was my uncle’s best friend and having a known face in the sport made it easier for me to prosper,” he shares. He progressed in Taekwondo at a lightning speed and within three months of time, he competed from yellow belt in a national level game held in Hetauda. “I won the gold medal in that competition and it made me realise that I can do well in taekwondo.”
Bista’s father originally wanted him to pursue engineering but considering low grades, he changed his mind and advised him to enroll in business studies. There was no conflict of interest between the father son duo regarding what subject to pursue in, however his father wanted him to continue his studies in Dhangadhi but he insisted on coming to Kathmandu. “My hidden intent in wanting to come to Kathmandu was to explore my feat in taekwondo,” he says. He somehow convinced his parents and arrived at the capital city with dreams of representing Nepal in international fields.
“Those were the hardest days of my life. Every morning I used to go to Dasharath Stadium to train, then spend the whole day time in college. I was living alone and had to manage everything from cooking, washing and taking care of injuries that I would sustain during trainings on my own,” remembers Bista. The struggles he had those days, however, were best rewarded. His passion, dedication, persistence (and whatever word we can give to define his hard work) towards taekwondo made him an unbeaten taekwondo star of the nation and the whole of South Asia.
Bista is the only athlete in the South Asian Games history to win four consecutive gold medals — 1999 (Nepal), 2003 (Pakistan), 2006 (Srilanka) and 2010 (Bangladesh). The flagbearer of Nepali contingent in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he is also the most decorated sportsperson of the country who has been honoured with several accolades from the government as well, which include the 3rd Suprabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu (2000), 3rd Subikhyat Trishakti Patta (2003), 3rd Supradipta Birendra Prajatantra Bhaskar (2005), Dashrath Chand Medhavi Honour (2010) and Yuba Pratibha Khelkud Samman (2010).
Eat, play and love
Bista, as we all know, is married to another sporting star, Ayesha Shakya, who won two gold medals in 13th South Asian Games and became the first South Asian taekwondo female to win gold medals in Poomsae and Fight category. Everyone appreciated her for the achievement and wondered how it was possible for a mother of two young boys to prepare herself to compete and win the golds. Some even guessed it to be possible only due to a supportive husband. Bista does nod that he is fully supportive but he refuses to take any credits. “It is her commitment, self-confidence and the next level of enduring power that she possesses that made her prepare and achieve the feat,” he opines.
Bista shares an amazing sporting journey with Shakya. In the 10th South Asian Games which was held in 2006 in Srilanka, both of them were players where he won a gold medal and she won a silver medal. Similarly, in the 11th SAG (2010, Bangladesh) each of them won a gold medal. Bista retired as an active player after 10th SAG, but in 11th, 12th and 13th held in Bangladesh, India and Nepal respectively, he served as the coach and she participated as a player.
More amazing is how they used to identify with each other during this sporting journey. “We were already in love when we were participating in the 10th SAG but we had kept it a secret to avoid any awkwardness,” says Bista. They used to be together in almost all major sporting events in Nepal and abroad but never made a public demonstration of affection.
“We were training in South Korea for a year. Even then no one knew about our relationship, not even our roommates!” he reveals. Not just that, in most of the felicitation programmes, both of them used to be invited where they were made to sit next to each other. “We’d be seated side by side where they would put a ‘mala’ (garland) around our neck as a part of the felicitation. Then the next day, newspapers would publish our photos. Every time I saw those photos, I’d feel like it was our wedding ceremony,” he says with a smile.
Raising boys right
Bista has indefatigably been a part of the sport and so has Shakya. They have never missed any major tournaments, whether it’s national or international. But with two very young sons, how does this power couple manage home and away? “Ayesha is very committed to sports and she has a high level of self-confidence and enduring power. Besides, mutual understanding between Ayesha and me, along with unconditional support from our family made it possible for us to manage time for sports and kids,” says Bista. However, while sharing the hardship they, as parents, have to go through to raise the boys, he says it is both physically and emotionally difficult to leave them behind when going for competitions. “Our elder son was only 14 months old when Ayesha had to leave for 12th South Asian Games. I still get goosebumps recalling how much she had cried at the airport,” he says. “I hope that when our sons grow older, they will understand why we couldn’t be home at all times,” he adds.
It is said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and true so, Bista and Shakya have already involved their elder son Aadesh in taekwondo and he has already earned a blue-red belt in taekwondo. “We are very open to the idea of our sons choosing whatever career path they want to. However, to ensure that they are physically fit, we will be encouraging them to be involved in taekwondo,” Bista says. With the duo setting the bar high, we will have to wait a couple of years to see what areas their boys Aadesh and Aadhar will bring golds in.
TEXT BY TNM | PHOTO BY GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR