Know more about your Indian Paralympians

Devendra Jhajharia set a new world record at the 2016 Games(picture credits: GoSports Foundation)

It takes only a desultory glance around the country to see how indifferently we treat our disabled people and their needs. However, India has produced a number of true homegrown disabled legends who have achieved greatness despite all odds against them, whether it’s conquering Mt. Everest with a prosthetic limb or becoming a quadriplegic Paralympian.

Of course, these para-athletes don’t get nearly as much attention as the able-bodied ones but they have never failed to inspire and encourage the world.

We have interviewed five Rio Paralympians, who have overcome seemingly insurmountable disabilities to reach a level of greatness in their profession that will inspire you to the core; let us see what they have to share with us:

1) Devendra Jhajharia

One of the mightiest names when it comes to Indian Paralympics, Devendra Jhajharia, came in contact with an electric cable of 11,000 volts, when he was just 8 years old, which burnt most of his body and his left arm had to be amputated by the doctors. However, he went on to become one of the best para-athletes of India.

“I live and breathe sports every day. In my native language we call it a ‘Junoon’. If I miss training one day, I start feeling restless and cannot wait to get back onto the field. The biggest challenge was maintaining fitness and avoiding injuries. I have been competing internationally for over 14 years now and this is my second Paralympic Games. It took a lot of effort and dedication to get to where I am today.”

Devendra, who hails from Rajasthan’s Churu district, became the second Indian to win a gold medal at the Paralympics in the javelin throw event at the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens and also set a world record with a throw of 62.15m eclipsing the old one of 59.77m.

He also became the first differently-abled Indian to win a gold medal at the IPC Athletics World Championships in the year 2013. His success in Athens saw him honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2004 and he became the first Paralympian to be honoured with the prestigious Padmashree Award in the year 2012.

“Sport has given me everything. I remember when I returned to my village, having lost an arm after my accident, my friends there would not let me play in their team anymore; they considered me a weakness. Today I have a Paralympic Games Gold, medals at World Championships and Asian Games, Arjuna Award and a Padmashree, all of that because of a drive to prove that differently-abled people are not a weakness.

“Today people respect and recognise me through sports and it has given me a platform to act as a source of motivation for other differently-abled individuals.”

Like many other para-athletes in the country, Devendra too had to overcome a lot of hurdles for funds and sponsorships. He got rewarded for his achievements mostly after the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. However, things have drastically changed now and he has a lot of support from the Government and an NGO (GoSports Foundation).

“The Ministry had funded my preparations in India and Ukraine through their Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). In addition, the GoSports Foundation, an NGO supporting sports persons from Olympic and Paralympics disciplines, are also supporting me through their Para Champions Programme. They funded the purchase of my Javelins, which I used to train with for Rio and will also be using at the Paralympic Games,” he said in an exclusive interview with Scroll.

Jhajharia is representing India at the Rio Paralympics along with five other para-javelin throwers. Four of the five throwers being at the Top 10 in the official IPC World Rankings, the team is fairly confident of doing their best this time. Devendra was one of the strongest medal contenders for India at Rio and he proved it by winning the gold medal in the men’s javelin throw F46 event, breaking his own record. Devendra is now the only Indian to win two individual Olympics/Paralympic gold medals

“My preparations were quite good and I am confident of doing my best there. I trained in Ukraine in the build up to the Paralympics and benefited tremendously from the scientific training programme which I followed.”

His message for our readers,“Mehnat karo apne lakshya ki taraf; safalta aate rahegi.” (Work hard towards your goals; success will follow).

2) Deepa Malik

(picture credits: GoSports Foundation)
Deepa Malik picked up the silver medal at the 2016 Paralympics (picture credits: GoSports Foundation)

Deepa’s life is no less than that of a superhero. An army man’s wife, a mother of two, a former beauty queen, an adventure sports player, an entrepreneur, a biker and a Paralympian, she has lived it all. She is also the first paraplegic Indian woman to join the world of sports. She is one of those who inspires us to dream big with their ability to overcome adversity.

“My life changed when I was diagnosed with a tumour in my spine during my early 30’s; it left me wheelchair bound with chest below paralysis. I came from a family of proud army men; my father was in the army and so was my husband, and I could have chosen a life of comfort if I wanted to.

“In fact, people expected me to remain restricted to my house and wheelchair, but I had other plans and set out to pursue swimming, motorsports and eventually Javelin and Shot Put.”

Deepa has over 58 national and state-level medals and 17 international medals in various sports including swimming, javelin throw and shot put. She has also won a bagful of awards for her achievements, which includes the President’s Role Model Award 2014, Limca People of the Year Award 2014, Karmaveer Chakra Award 2013 and she was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2012.

She is representing India at the Rio Paralympic Games in the event of shotput. Deepa has registered her name four times in the Limca Book of Records for her biking adventures.

Deepa has shown us all that nothing can hold you back if you have the courage to fulfil your dreams. Just like Devendra, Deepa is also supported by Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) and GoSports Foundation. Deepa is in the Indian ‘track and field’ team for the sport of shot put at Rio Paralympics 2016.

“Training has been fantastic. I recently threw my personal best at the Paralympic Games Selection trials in Sonipat, which were conducted by the Sports Authority of India. I feel physically and mentally ready for Rio and I hope I can make my mark at the Games!”

She added to her tally by bagging the silver medal in her event (shot put) at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. And here is what she has to say to our readers,

“Never give up! I was close to quitting sport but I persisted and look where I am today. Times can always change for good.”

3) Amit Kumar Saroha

Age is not an issue for Amit Saroha, who is the oldest Indian athlete at the Games (picture credits: GoSports Foundation)

‘If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.’ This phrase has been proved right by Amit Saroha, who became the first quadriplegic to represent India at a Paralympic Games (London 2012). He is also one of the most decorated para-athletes of India and has won medals in many international competitions including Asian Para Games.

He suffered a tragic car accident when he was 22, causing him to become a quadriplegic. Despite his injury, he has always entertained and motivated us with his strength and competitive spirit.

“After being bound to a wheelchair, everyone around me thought I would be bedridden and dependent on others for the rest of my life. My father and husband have both served in the army and I derived my strength in wanting to prove that I could achieve a lot more despite being on a wheelchair.”

Before his injury, Amit was a national level hockey player. However, his tryst with fame as a sportsperson happened after his injury when he met Jonathan Sigworth, an American wheelchair rugby player, on a tour of India to promote para sports. Since then he has been motivating other athletes like him. He has mentored and supported other Paralympians like Rampal Chahar, Rinku Hooda and Dharambir Nain.

“I am the oldest athlete from India at this Paralympics. To put this in perspective, the youngest athlete from India is more than 25 years my junior in age. But despite being the seniormost athlete, they do not treat me any differently, and I am made to feel like any other fellow athlete, which I very much appreciate. It is an important lesson for others – to treat everyone equally always despite their age or physical limitations.”

Amit won a silver medal in his first Asian Para Games which took place in Guangzhou in the year 2010. Two years later he qualified for the London 2012 Paralympic Games after he won a record-breaking gold medal in the Kuala Lumpur qualifiers.

Amit won gold medal in the club throw and silver medal discuss throw at the Asian Para Games in Incheon in 2014. He was also the silver medallist of the 2015 World Championships in Doha. He was conferred the Arjuna Award in the year 2013.

“Sport has given me a platform to set an example for society and make the most of what I have. I am truly grateful for all the opportunities that I have had through sport. I wish to bring India to the top of the medal tally. I believe Army men and Sportsmen are blessed with the opportunity to fight for their country on an international level for almost half of their lives and I want to give my best in it.”

Amit is also a promoter of the Paralympic movement in the country. He is a motivational speaker for the youth and has spoken across prestigious institutes like IIT Guwahati and BITS, Pillani. His training is supported by the Government through the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) and he is also funded by the GoSports Foundation. He has pledged to give his best at the Rio Paralympic Games.

“I always try to be positive and work hard, instead of thinking about how hard the challenge is/will be. The challenge and motivation, both, since then have been to try and change people’s perception towards me and I hope my first appearance at the Paralympic Games will go a long way towards doing that.”

Amit’s message for our readers, “Work hard, think positive and set your goals right.”

4) Suyash Narayan Jadhav

Jadhav is the only swimmer in the Paralympic contingent (picture credits: GoSports Foundation)

Suyash Jadhav is the only Indian swimmer at the Rio Paralympics 2016. He became the first Indian para-swimmer to have achieved the ‘A’ qualifying mark for this year’s Paralympics.

“It has been a challenge, particularly last year; I knew I had it in myself to qualify for Rio but I was not getting the chance to represent my country abroad at an international qualification meet. There was even a time last year when I was close to quitting Swimming. But I did not lose hope and eventually got the desired chance and qualified.”

Suyash lost both his hands in the year 2004 to a loose electric wire. He was unaware of the fact that he could take part in swimming competitions until 2 years after the tragic incident, a friend of his told him about the para-swimming events. But now, once he is in the water, his tragic back story fades and it is his dexterity, determination and sheer brute strength that becomes the focus, which is how it should be.

“My father was a National level swimmer, so the motivation comes from there. He wanted to achieve many things in his sport but could not. So it was a motivation for me to try and fulfil my father’s dreams and aspirations, and I am happy to now have the opportunity to represent my country in the pinnacle of Para sporting event.”

Since he qualified for the Paralympics 2016, he moved to Bangalore for training, now he is assisted by a Coach, a Sports Nutritionist, a Physiotherapist, and a Fitness Trainer. He is supported by the GoSports Foundation. He does not hope for a podium finish at Rio this year since it will take a lot more effort and time to do that but he surely has the will to better his own timing.

“When I first came to Bangalore my timing was 33.92 seconds and now it is 33.73. Now our target is to lower it by 0.16 seconds. If I can clock the timing at around 32.04 seconds, I can become a finalist. I believe in my own potential and if I get the opportunity I can definitely have a podium finish in 2020 Games.”

This is what he had to say to our readers, “Never think of what you don’t have, think of what you have and only then you will succeed.”

5) Rampal Chahar

Rampal Chahar started training for para-sports after meeting Amit Saroha (picture credits: GoSports Foundation)

At a tender age of 4 years, Rampal Chahar got his arm caught in an agricultural chopper which resulted in the partial (below elbow) amputation of his right arm. But he chose not to cry over his tragedies and preferred to move ahead with a pinch of salt to become a Paralympian.

“In the beginning I was unsure; I lacked proper guidance and even had financial problems. I pursued higher education as I was unable to see a career in sports. Nothing was open to us, not even our entry to IPC, there were no clear classifications and I had no idea under which category of IPC classification system I was eligible to perform.”

But his life changed after he met fellow para-athlete Amit Saroha, who introduced Rampal to the world of Para-Sports. Rampal is funded by the government of Haryana and supported by the GoSports Foundation.

“In 2013, I was introduced to Amit Saroha Sir and then I saw scope of becoming a para-athlete. I had to quit my job to go ahead with my high-jump full time training. In 2015, I broke a National Record in Ghaziabad. Amit Kumar Sir has been the guidance I always lacked. He has been supporting me in all senses even morally. When I have a mentor like him, I have nothing to worry about now.”

Rampal recently won the gold medal at the IPC Grand Prix in Tunisia, with a jump of 1.85m, which also made him qualify for Rio Paralympics 2016 with the ‘A’ qualification mark.

“I am training really hard to win a medal for India. I have been ranked No.4 in the World after the trials. I hope I can win a medal for my nation.”

He might have a missing limb, yet he uses everything else he has to become the best at what he does. His message for our readers, “Never look back once you have set your goals and try your level best in everything you do.”

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Edited by Staff Editor
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