As a teenager back in 2003 I used to travel frequently between Hyderabad and Chennai. This is a short recount of one of those journeys.
Boarding the train at Secunderabad, I do a quick double take at the amount of badminton bags filling the space under my seats. As I begin to raise my voice to claim the space which was rightfully mine a lady and her daughter quickly picked up one of the bags and said please place your bags, we can place ours near our seats. Thanking them I quickly settled down as the train begin to depart the station. Once we begin to pull out I struck up a conversation with the mother and the rather shy girl. The girl was probably around 10-12 years old, hair styled as a boy-cut. The mother, as is the wont of Indian mothers quickly brought up that her daughter was an awesome badminton player and that they were travelling for a tournament. I did not think much about it and nodded politely and noted that the little girl was embarrassed among all this praise.
Cut forward to dinner time and the conversation had gotten a lot friendlier with the girl talking a bit more. We shared dinner as her mother did not want me to eat the 'food' served by the Indian railways. The girl and mom were travelling for a tournament and were very confident about their chances. Not in an arrogant sort of way, just that I am pretty good kinda way. Another of her fellow badminton players joined us from the second class coaches (He was there as he was not seeded well enough to have travel expenses reimbursed) We all struck up a conversation regarding sports and badminton. We bantered about on whether badminton is tough physically with me being of the opinion that tennis was a lot more physical which probably generated the strongest response of the day from the little girl. She explained how strenuous badminton was and that they get very little breaks in between points compared to tennis players. We went to sleep after this.
The next morning just before we got down, I asked the mother please remind me her name so that I can look her up and follow her exploits. Her mom said Saina Nehwal. She was 12 years old then and was beginning to make a big name for herself. 9 years on she won the bronze medal at the 2012 london olympics. I met a great champion that day. And I had no idea.