Tokyo Paralympic silver medalist Praveen Kumar is indebted to Ankur Dhama, a visually-impaired runner, for being able to achieve his goal of podium finish at the Games.
Based out of Delhi, the 18-year-old para-athlete won silver in men’s T64 high jump with a 2.07m effort - a new Asian record.
However, in the lead-up to the Tokyo Paralympics 2021, Praveen Kumar was unable to avail the service of his masseur. He refused to visit the athlete at home once the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in Delhi in April.
Ankur Dhama, an Arjuna awardee, didn't let his friend and roommate get weighed down by the pressure of missing support staff and played an important role as a masseur. To ensure he was able to recover from high-intensity workouts and stay focused for the Games, he gave him a good massage after training sessions.
Recalling Ankur's role, Praveen Kumar said:
“In the absence of a support staff, Ankur played a crucial role in improving my fitness. Since Ankur has done a course in massage it was a great support to me. After a strenuous workout, he gave me a good massage. It enabled me to recover for the next practice session. For all the support I got, it is difficult to pay back.”
“He (Praveen Kumar) called me to say that the goal has been achieved.”
Ankur Dhama missed the Tokyo Paralympic Games due to a recurring stress fracture in his lower limbs. At the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, he missed the final of the men’s 1500m in his category as he tripped and fell in the heats.
The 27-year-old won one silver and two bronze medals in middle-distance events ranging from 800m to 5,000m at the 2014 Para Asian Games. But he finished outside the medal bracket at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games.
The two men are training partners who share accommodation and are coached by Dronacharya awardee Satyapal Singh, who said:
“Since August 2018, Ankur has been nursing shin pain and couldn’t qualify for the Tokyo Paralympic Games.”
Since he was out of Tokyo Paralympic Games squad due to his injury, Ankur Dhama felt the best way to stay connected with the major competition of the year was to support his friend and roommate. He also shared his Rio experience with Praveen Kumar to motivate him.
Earlier this year, the escalating COVID-19 cases in Delhi made it difficult for Praveen Kumar to continue practice as sports facilities were closed down, said Ankur Dhama:
“At times, Praveen got nervous. He was making his Paralympic debut and had no experience of big match competition. But we shared our experience to motivate him. It worked out as he stayed focused to excel in Japan.”
From May until the departure of the India’s Paralympic squad to Japan, Ankur Dhama played a big role in supporting Praveen Kumar, revealed Satyapal Singh:
“Apart from playing a role of support staff, Ankur also ensured Praveen was having proper meals. As a coach I ensured the good training on the playground but off the field it was Ankur who kept his room-mate in good health.”
Praveen Kumar himself came down with COVID-19 in April. It was a worrying factor. Explaining how they dealt with the situation, Satyapal Singh said:
"To avoid having a virus infection for the second time, we told kitchen staff to go on a long leave. It was my duty to deliver meals. And it was Ankur’s responsibility to ensure Praveen was having it at the right time.”
The bond is expected to continue in the future, as Satyapal Singh added:
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“Despite challenging situation, we are happy to have achieved our goal of podium finish at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Success in Japan will act as a catalyst for future International para competitions.”