Avani Lekhara says winning Paralympic gold broke a lot of stereotypes

Avani Lekhara in action at the Tokyo Paralympics. (PC: Getty Images)
Avani Lekhara in action at the Tokyo Paralympics. (PC: Getty Images)

Avani Lekhara hogged the limelight at the Tokyo Paralympics when she became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the quadrennial event.

The young Indian shooter went on to make waves, winning the gold medal in the 10m air rifle event and a bronze medal in the 50m rifle event in her first-ever Paralympics.

With a record-breaking score of 249.6 in the final of the 10m air rifle, Avani Lekhara strode into the record books in style.

Avani Lekhara was bestowed with the Khel Ratna Award and the Padma Shri Award in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, Avani Lekhara opened up on a variety of topics.

The meet was organized by Arth - A Culture Fest, where the young Paralympian is keen to take her story far and wide, speaking on Youth Manifesto for the Future,

The young shooter said a lot has changed since the Tokyo Paralympics and is enjoying the limelight.

"After coming back from the Paralympics, I saw a lot of people knowing about para-sports and para-shooting and the whole country was cheering for me. It is good to be an inspiration for young kids who tell me that they want to be like me. The journey has been amazing. It motivates you to do in the future," she said.

Avani Lekhara stays focused for a packed season ahead

Avani poses with her Paralympic gold medal. (PC: Getty Images)
Avani poses with her Paralympic gold medal. (PC: Getty Images)

Instead of resting on her laurels, the 20-year-old is eager to focus on her upcoming assignments. A shorter Olympic cycle and a packed 2022 season means athletes are on their toes, making sure to leave no stone unturned to give their best. Avani Lekhara is no different.

"I have major tournaments coming up this year. We have the Asian Para-Games in October, and then we have the World Championships in November. I want to do my best in these competitions. That is my short term goal for now. The long-term goal is to win a medal in Paris in 2024," she explained.

Working towards her goals, the young shooter is quick to identify the gaps in her performances and plug them in at the earliest.

"I've started my training and I'm working on things that didn't go well in the Paralympics. I am working more on my physical stamina for now. We have a World Cup in June and that will be like a trial for the Asian Games and World Championships," she said.

Avani Lekhara has set a benchmark but makes sure there is no pressure every time she steps on the shooting range.

"There is always that feeling of good feeling when people say that I am going to win a medal. When they look up to me and say that I can do this, it also feels good. It motivates me. Personally, I don't take it as a pressure because I feel that winning a Paralympic medal has given me a lot of confidence."

She added:

"It also broke a barrier that was there that I cannot win a gold medal or any women cannot win a gold medal at the Paralympics. So, if I did it once, I can do it again if I work hard," she said.

Also read: NRAI announces Indian contingent ahead of ISSF World Cup, Manu Bhaker among other Olympians left out

Importance of mental health

With the pandemic hogging the limelight, Avani Lekhara made sure she had her mental fitness in place. The para-shooter does a lot of breathing exercises and is also a regular with yoga.

"Shooting is more about how well do you know your body and how can you maintain your body position, your breathing, your focus and concentration. So, I do a lot of mental training exercises for that. So that when we're the lane, I can calm myself and my breathing down. Being mentally fit is very important and I feel that doing a little bit for your mental strength could make your day and could send positive vibes the whole day," she said.

For now, Avani is focused on her training under former Indian shooter Suma Shirur. With an action-packed season beckoning, the Paralympian hopes to make more podium finishes and add more coveted medals to her glittering trophy cabinet.

Edited by Diptanil Roy
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