When you ask someone who Manikandan Kumar is, there are high chances that he or she is hearing the name for the first time. However, the 29-year old’s achievements in the sport of para climbing gives us several reasons on why he should be a household name in India. In a country, where anything outside the realm of cricket has to fight for its own legitimacy, Kumar has been creating quite a name for himself. The Bangalore-based climber created history by becoming the first Indian to win a gold medal at the IFSC Para-climbing World Championship in 2012.
The sport of climbing was first introduced to the country in 2003 and out first tryst with international success came through MN Vatsala, who won two silver medals at different world cup events. But, it’s Kumar’s performances, which have been eye-grabbing to say the least.
Afflicted by polio on his right leg at the age of five, Kumar wanted to be a mechanical engineer, when he was young. But, his plans hit a major roadblock, after he failed his class 10 exams. It was at this juncture of his life, that a 15-year old Kumar had his first tryst with climbing. In 2002, a school trip to Ramnagar saw Kumar recognise his interest and potential within the sport. With a caliper fastened on his right leg, he swiftly climbed the artificial wall much to the surprise of the people there.
Kumar said, “I never thought of my disability as a problem, I think it’s more mental than physical, all that matters at the end is how dedicated and passionate you are. I practiced a lot for 2-3 months and the people around encouraged me a lot and within a year’s time I was competing in national events.”
It is at this point that Kumar decided to take up the sport of climbing as his profession. His father worked as a carpenter and there were certain financial constraints to deal with as the sport was not a cash-rich one. He said, “My family wasn’t very rich one, hence it was a risk taking this particular sport up, but with they supported me with whatever they had and I am grateful for that. My father wanted me to take a conventional job, but when he saw how good I was, there were no doubts in his mind.”
In 2003, Kumar participated in his first ever Nationals against able bodied athletes and was awarded the best climber award, reaching the country’s top 10. At that point, speed climbing was taking baby steps towards India’s sporting landscape and there were not enough participants for a para-climbing event. Hence, Kumar had to compete with the abled bodied athletes, but he attributes a lot of his success to his early days. He added,”Competing with them at that point gave me a lot of confidence in my own ability, I knew the more I compete in the able-bodied category, the better I get at the sport.”
Between 2002 to 2010, Kumar continued to participate and groom his skills across various national events. It is in 2010, that he heard about the IFSC World Climbing Championship, he said,”When I came to know about this event, I started preparing for it with all my efforts and in 2012, I got my first chance.” However, it wasn’t till 2012 that Kumar go his first chance to participate at the event.
Lack of financial backing and sponsorship was always big challenge for Kumar. Till the time he won gold in 2012, Kumar had no sponsors and had to fund himself, with help from friends and family. He said, “I used to earn only Rs 5,000 a month, to sustain both my family and my climbing career was becoming extremely difficult.” It was around this time, that he met national coach Keerthi Pais, who gave him a job in his adventure company. Now, Kumar had a steady source of income by training aspiring climbers.
In 2012, when he finally got the chance to compete at the World Championship and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. The victory in Paris, saw him become the first Indian climber in history to win a World Championship. Since that victory, people took notice and have come forward to fund him, however, he is yet to garner a private sponsor.
Since 2012, Kumar has consistently medalled at various World Cups, his most recent victory was at the Paraclimbing World Cup in Imst, Austria. The event saw him repeat his performances from three years back, taking the top spot in a convincing manner. He also won a silver medal this year in another IFSC World Cup event held in Chamonix, France. Between 2012 and 2015, Kumar has won six silver medals highlighting his constant ability to finish in the higher echelons of the sports.
An unsung hero, who has quietly been bringing laurels to the country has hit a financial road-block. He now needs sponsors to fund his training for the World Cup event in September this years. He said, “My family does support me, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to travel for these events. The association pays for my flight ticket, but not every time. So, the funding will help me train for the World Cup and World Championship next year.”
The man, who has represented our tri-colour with no questions asked, now needs our help. He said, “My next target, after the World Championships will be the 2020 Paralympics as climbing will be included in it for the first time. I can assure you that I will not come back without a medal.“ Let us come together and support the man, who has endlessly worked hard for 15 years, to see the Indian national anthem playing across the world. Let us help him fuel his dream, so that he can continue to make the country proud and participate in the London edition of the World Cup in October.Published 11 Sep 2015, 16:12 IST