National karate exponent R Sharmendran is no stranger to winning medals and titles in the sport.

However, his gold medal haul at the recently concluded 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines, means "a lot more" to him, as it came fresh out of his road to recovery, following a knee surgery earlier this year.

The 27-year-old defeated Thailand's Muntaen Songvut 3-0 in the finals of the men's under-75kg kumite (sparring) at the World Trade Centre in Manila, last Monday.

Sharmendran told Astro Ulagam that he suffered an injury on his right knee in December last year. Months of participating in tournaments that followed, exacerbated the situation and he was told that a surgery was required.

He underwent the procedure, which required drilling into his cartilage, in March this year.

What came next was "five long months" of recovery, where he could not prepare for the tournament, despite his name already being listed in the SEA Games itinerary.

Watching his fellow exponents practice vigorously and not being able to do the same even made him doubt whether he can recover on time for the tournament.

Roping In Old Coach

To overcome his predicament, Sharmendran in August this year, sought the help of former national coach, Latvian Andris Vasiljevs, under whom he trained for 7 years.

Despite no longer helming the national team, Vasiljevs agreed to help Sharmendran, and for the next four months, Sharmendran shuttled between Latvia, Phuket, and Malaysia, all alone, to train for the big event.

"I would attribute 99% of his victory to Andris, as he helped me bring back my confidence, and regain my rythm after a long period of absence.

"Besides, I would also like to thank (current) coach S Mahendran and the Malaysian Karate Foundation (Makaf) for arranging the funding for my overseas training trips," he said.

As the tournament neared, Sharmendran felt extra pressure, in a sense that he was the reigning 2014 Karate1 World Cup champion, thus, he had a title to defend.

Participating in a match in Latvia at the end of October helped him get back his groove in the ring, but the SEA Games was a different ball game altogether, he said.

"Although I'm a senior athlete, I can't just breeze into the ring, defeat my opponent and coolly walk out.

"Luckily, coach Mahendran was by the ringside during my tournament, cheering me on, and giving me game plans. His presence was a major boost."

Sharmendran is currently on a break following his victory, and his knee, which is not yet "100%", is expected to recover as he charts his path for next year.

Photo source: R Sharmendran