Tokyo Paralympics: Deepa Malik-inspired Vinod Kumar overcomes odds to win silver medal at discus throw

India's para-athlete Vinod Kumar.
India's para-athlete Vinod Kumar.

A decade ago, Vinod Kumar was just another citizen of the country. Running a modest grocery and condiments shop near the Rajiv Gandhi Sports Complex in Rohtak, Haryana, Vinod Kumar was always in awe of athletes as fit as a fiddle, thronging the sports complex for their training regimen.

On Saturday, Vinod Kumar became the toast of the nation when he won a bronze medal in the discus throw event to help India register its third medal at the ongoing Tokyo Paralympics. His throw of 19.91m is a new Asian record.

Watching athletes day in and day out in a way inspired Vinod Kumar. However, his dreams of playing for the country were always harbored for two reasons – his disability, a spinal cord injury that he suffered in 2002 that made him paralyzed waist below, and the costs incurred for it.

Read: India's Nishad Kumar clinches silver in men's T47 high jump at Tokyo Paralympic Games

Vinod Kumar was an ordinary middle-class citizen coming from a family of Army men. His father was a soldier taking part in India’s 1971 war and Vinod Kumar wanted to follow his father’s footsteps. However, a fall from a cliff during training changed everything.

His marriage in 2012 and starting a family meant his role as the sole bread winner of the family gained importance manifold. That his grocery shop wasn’t doing all well compounded his problems forcing him to take loans. But Vinod Kumar never lost hope in life and his dream of becoming an athlete.

Vinod Kumar - the para-athele starts off

It was, however, not until 2016 that Vinod Kumar thought of giving wings to his dreams. The Paralympics was on in Rio de Janeiro and the entire country was going ballistic over Deepa Malik’s medal – the first Indian woman to win a medal on the stage. It somewhere inspired Vinod Kumar.

Vinod Kumar, the para-athlete, was born soon. A meeting with archery coach Sanjay Suhag and a subsequent meeting with athletics coach Amarjeet Singh changed Vinod Kumar’s outlook on sports. He took up to discus throw and was off the blocks.

Also read: India at Paralympics 2021: Bhavina loses to Zhou Ying in final, settles for silver

Days and months of training and a national championship bronze medal later, Vinod Kumar was soon off to Paris with noted athletics coach Satyanarayana and competed in the World Para Athletics Championship in 2019. He was classified in the T/52 category and Vinod Kumar finished fourth in the Championship.

The fourth-place finish helped Vinod Kumar seal his spot in the Tokyo Paralympics, which was then scheduled to be held in 2020.

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Overcoming COVID-19 adversity

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It wreaked havoc on all walks of life and more particularly for Vinod Kumar. He tested positive for coronavirus twice and had to be hospitalized.

However, as gritty as he could be, Vinod Kumar successfully recovered from the bout of the virus and started hitting the training sessions again at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus in Bengaluru.

Landing in Tokyo for the Paralympics, Vinod Kumar wasn’t sure until last week about his participation. He was classified in the T/52 category in 2019 and as per the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), every classification was only valid for two years. The postponement of the Paralympics looked to do more harm than good.

Also read: Indian duo Rakesh and Jyoti defeats Thailand, cruises through to the quarterfinals

As they say, all’s well that ends well. The IPC reclassified many athletes, including Vinod Kumar, and as late as only last week the para-athlete was given a go ahead to compete in the T/52 category in discus throw. The para-athlete returned with a bronze medal.

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