“If I know I am going to die tomorrow, I will be at a climbing wall today.” These words reveal the passion 18-year-old Bharath Pereira, a Bangalore-based climber, has for the sport. The class 12th student, who began climbing when he was just five, had sealed a Youth Olympic spot via the continental quota at the 2017 Asian Youth Championship held in Singapore last year.
He’s among the 68-member strong contingent, which will be heading to Buenos Aires for the 3rd Youth Olympic Games scheduled to be held from October 6-18. He was in the national capital for the official send-off by the Indian Olympic Association where shooting star Manu Bhaker was announced as India’s flag bearer for the mega event. Pereira’s foray into a sport, which has flown below the radar, happened by chance. While driving down the road adjacent to the Kanteerava Stadium his father Subash spotted a climbing wall. He asked the then five-year-old if he’d like to go inside and give it a try. “The instructor there was a national-level climber and he said my son was really good. A climbing course was underway and the instructor allowed him to join. At the end of the course, we had competition and I got my son a spiderman costume for it. It sounds dramatic, I know,” Subash, a travel agent, proudly recalls.
Since then, Pereira has been tirelessly working with coach Keerthi Pais in honing his skills at the Equilibrium Climbing Station about four kilometres from his house. 2008 was his year of reckoning when he grabbed silver medals in all three climbing disciplines ( bouldering, lead and speed climbing) at the Asian Youth Sports Climbing Championship held at Bali, Indonesia.
In the process, he earned his first international medal even before competing in the nationals. But home glory did not elude him for long. He has been consistently winning the titles in his age category as he has progressed. Last year’s national’s in Bhubaneswar marked his entry into the senior category and he bagged the top spot there as well. In 2016, it was announced that climbing would be included in the Tokyo Olympics, enhancing the stature of the sport. There is only one competition-speed wall and less than five practice walls across the country for the same discipline. The rigorous nature of the sport demands extremely high levels of fitness, which means slogging for hours at training. But all this has done little to diminish Pereira’s love for the sport.
“If climbing was a person, climbing is who I’d go out with. We don’t have television at home. I am on social media but everything I do there is also related to my sport. All the people I follow on Instagram are climbers. I even had a climbing game but it was a bit boring,” Pereira goes on in an endless loop.
The national record holder’s coach Pais believes his ward has become the finest climber in the country because of his sharpness. “There are climbers who are much stronger than him but he’s very smart.”
Climbing is as much as a mental game as it is physical. In lead climbing, the participants are given six minutes to observe the wall before they start scaling. Those minutes are extremely crucial as the climber needs to draw out a strategy, memorise where the holders are placed and pre-plan their moves. “It’s like solving a puzzle. I sometimes run into the crowd to get a better view and then come closer to observe the angles at which holders are placed. It’s very demanding,” Pereira explains.
The St Joseph’s College student has tried his hands at several other sports including basketball, cricket and football but he says only climbing gives him the sort of “kick” he’s looking for. “There’s a kind of feeling when footballers get after they score a goal. When I reach the top of the wall I get a similar or in fact a better feeling than that. I absolutely love everything about the sport.”