A team of 46 hearing-impaired athletes represented India at the 23rd Summer Deaflympics held at Samsun in Turkey. Out of these, six athletes returned home with five medals, proving their mettle on the international stage. The international multi-sport event took place between July 18 and July 30, 2017.
Competing with 3,148 athletes from 97 countries in 21 sports, the Indian squad made the country proud and clinched one gold medal too.
Wrestler Virender Singh won gold in the 74kg freestyle event. 16-year-old golfer Diksha Dagar won silver in the women’s individual golf. Prithvi Sekhar and Jafreen Shaik won the mixed doubles bronze in tennis, with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over the second-seeded Chinese Taipei pair of Chun-Wei Wang and Chiu-Mei Ho. Sumit Dahiya bagged bronze by beating Ghamar Pour (Ireland) by 10-0 points in 97kg freestyle. Ajay Kumar beat Babayan A (Armenia) by 10-0 points in 65kg freestyle to earn a bronze medal.
Here are the stories of some of these international champions that will inspire you to chase your dreams.
31-year-old Virender Singh, popularly known as Goonga Pehelwan, which is also the title of the documentary based on his life, has won six international medals and is an Arjuna Award recipient. Hailing from the Jhajjar district of Haryana, his road to success has been extremely difficult. With increasing debts due to his diet and training, Virender has to make his living by fighting local dangals with pehelwans twice his size, for anywhere between ₹5,000 and ₹1,00,000. He also plans to set up his own academy for supporting hearing-impaired athletes from around the country. He also wants to continue training for the World Deaf Wrestling Championships set to happen in 2020 and the Deaflympics in 2021.
Diksha Dagar, who clinched a silver medal in the individual women’s golf competition, has been using hearing aids since she was six. This was when golf had been introduced in the Deaflympics for the first time. Diksha won the Junior’s Number 1 title in the country in the amateur ranks. She took part in eight tournaments at the national level, winning four of them and ending up second in the other two. She also participated in four international tournaments, including the World Ladies Amateur Golf Championship. Diksha is also the only under-18 Indian player who comes in the top 500 global rankings.
Jafreen Shaik – the only tennis player from Telangana at the Deaflympics – is 18 and one of the four girls from the 46 athlete-squad. She is a two-time National champion and World No. 24 in her category.
Lauding the performance of all the six athletes at the Deaflympics, 2010 Delhi Commonwealth discus throw gold winner, Krishna Poonia, said, “The government should support these deaf athletes. They should be looked after properly. They also brought laurels to the country. They should be given facilities and incentives on par with para athletes.”
Although the team expected an enthusiastic welcome at the Indira Gandhi International airport when they arrived at 5AM , they were disappointed as nobody showed up. In protest, the players and support staff refused to leave the airport.
The road to success hasn’t been easy for most of these athletes, but their sheer talent and hardwork makes us feel proud of them!