Aishwarya Pissay: ‘Important to take care of mental health after injury’

Aishwarya Pissay was a trailblazer of sorts, finding ways to thrive in a male-dominated sport through passion, determination and hard work. The off-road racer has an indomitable spirit and now she’s back on the tracks after breaking both her wrists in a racing accident last year.

Last month she competed in the Baja Aragon, round four of the FIM Bajas World Cup, and finished 47. Overcoming mental obstacles, she says, was important to regaining the confidence and drive to make a difference.

Aishwarya speaks along sports star about her race in Spain, the mental challenges following her injury, the increased participation of women in motorsport and more.

The Baja Aragon was your first World Cup race this season after the wrist injury. How was the racing experience after a gap and did your performance live up to your expectations?

Yes, the Baja Aragon was the first race after my accident last year. It wasn’t an easy journey. It was a difficult task, not only because of my physical disability, but also because I had to deal with mental blocks that you have to deal with after an injury. I went into the race with the goal of learning more about the terrain and the overall racing experience. But I was confident with all the training I had put in leading up to the race.

I spent more time training in Europe with my trainer Mika (Metge) in France and Jordi (Grau) in Spain to prepare for international races. This was my third participation in the Baja Aragon and by far my best place overall. It was my best performance in an international race. It was great.

There is a risk of serious injury in off-road racing. What are some of the challenges – mental and otherwise – in preparing for peak performance? A bad accident or serious injury can leave an emotional scar, if only for a short time. Do you train your mind so it doesn’t affect your races?

Yes. Mental fitness and psychology are an integral part of my recovery and regular training. Yes, I went through mental blocks and obstacles coming back from injury, but having my coach Mon by my side to overcome all these challenges helped me regain my confidence after the accident. But I think it’s important to pay attention to mental health, especially after an accident. I think as athletes we don’t pay that much attention to the mental aspect, just focus on skill and physical ability.

So yes, mental fitness has played a major role in coming back as strong as I have.

Racing must be even more challenging in hot weather, especially now that the climate is noticeably warming. Europe has just had a severe heat wave. How do you keep yourself hydrated during races?

For hydration, I follow a protocol given to me by my nutrition team. For the time that I drive [planning] how much water I need to consume on a normal day or what products I add to my water is one way to stay hydrated. ultra human is another technology I use that helps me track my nutrition as well as my energy levels during training, racing and on my recovery days. [It helps] By understanding my fueling better, optimizing my nutrition and giving 100 percent in training and racing.

You have raced in India and abroad since your first national championship win. Have you seen the talent pool for women growing in India? What steps can the motorsport community take to further increase their participation?

Participation of women in motorsports in India was [increasing], because when I started I was the only girl on the starting lineup. But today I see at least 15 women participating in the TVS One Make Championship. I think it’s a great start when manufacturers step up to support women and provide an opportunity to participate in an affordable place.

Grassroots programs have started this year with the FIM minibike series and classes for women even in the rally championship. These are some ways they have supported it. I think the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India is doing its part to promote women’s motorsport in any way it can.

You talked about how confidence is an acquired skill rather than an innate trait. It has helped you bounce back after setbacks. Can you explain the acquisition process in more detail, perhaps using examples from your own career?

My career is a perfect example of someone who was an outsider with nothing but dreams and was able to make it happen. And definitely I wasn’t someone born with confidence, but it was something I had to work hard at. But I think that’s likely [wisdom] They don’t find it that easy, or athletes don’t talk about it that much.

Every race I’ve competed in, every race I’ve lost, every experience and learning I’ve gained from each of those races [contributed to my understanding]. After the hard work I put in as I got results, I realized that anything is achievable if you work hard and have a goal and focus. It’s also important to communicate with the older riders to understand more about their struggles. Through all of this I’ve learned that it’s not something you’re born with, but it’s something we can definitely work on and achieve.

What’s the next tournament you’re going to play in and what are your goals for this season?

I am preparing for the national championship in Bangalore this weekend. It’s the fourth round of the Indian National Rally Championship and I’m looking forward to finishing this season of the Rally Championship in India and competing in the Sprint Championship from September. I’m also looking forward to training internationally for more months and participating in a few more international events.

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