Three foot five is not a measure of stature, as Joby Mathew proves yet again by contributing the most to India’s medal count with two gold, three silvers and a bronze at the recently concluded 2017 World Dwarf Games. ‘The Olympics of Little People’ saw nearly 400 athletes from 24 countries taking part.
It is not really these statistics that matter for an intense sports buff. What touches my heart are stories of athletes like Joby Matthew who do not crumble against the challenges life strews on their path, but instead wear them as crowns to inspire generations.
I bow in awe to such greatness and derive inspiration when little lows in life lead me to forget the blessings I have been bestowed with.
Hailing from Adukkom village in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Joby Mathew is a man with nerves of steel.
Fighting fate and battling extreme adversities with determination, life has rewarded him by making him known as a World champion arm-wrestler.
Born with a rare condition, called Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency, he was left with deformed hips and stunted legs with no knee joints. But standing 104 cm tall, he chose to go against the flow of life and turned the tide, battling numerous hardships.
In school, he sat out while others played interesting new sports every day. Joby Mathew would feel disheartened, but he decided to make the most of his biggest weapon, his upper body. He had tremendous strength in his arms. In his free time, Joby Mathew would challenge others to arm-wrestle with him. Soon, he came to be known as the best in the campus.
Staying in a home on the top of a hill was the most difficult of the challenges for physically challenged Joby. “There were obstructions everywhere. I had to walk a quarter mile before I got to a real road and my mother used to carry me to school. That is how I made it to school in the first year,” he said.
Watching other kids ride bicycles to school would frustrate him to no end. He loved football but he knew his shortcoming. Instead of grumbling or blaming fate, he started focussing on what he could best do – arm-wrestling.
The twist in the tale happened during the Kottayam District Sports Meet in 1983. This was when his sporting career grew wings and he won gold medals in running and throwball in the disabled category.
Of course, arm-wrestling was always his favourite.
It was a new beginning that would eventually see him win accolades on the World stage.
In the World Championships in Japan in 2005, he bagged three bronze medals – one for general category against non-disabled competitors and two in disabled categories in arm-wrestling.
Then he reached the top of his game at the World Championships in Spain in 2008, bagging gold for the general category and silver for the disabled event.
“My legs were extremely small at birth,” he said. “According to science, my legs are 60 per cent underdeveloped. But I think all of us are physically challenged in some way, so I never consider myself handicapped. I may be, according to the world, but it will never stop me from trying anything,” he says.
Joby says he dreams of climbing Mount Everest. He has already enrolled himself for a four-month course in a mountaineering school in Switzerland. “I will climb Mount Everest before 2020. That’s my goal,” he says.
Joby Mathew is also a brown belt in karate, a member of the Kerala parasailing and paragliding team and a keen swimmer. His passion for life deserves a salute.
He drives a specially converted car now, which lets him drive only with his arms. He follows a strict exercise regime to stay fit. He wakes up at 5 am and spends an hour in the gym each day. An hour of swimming and rock climbing are also a part of his routine.
About his medals at the 2017 World Dwarf Games, Joby Matthew says he had a wonderful experience. “I competed in badminton singles and doubles, shot put, javelin, discus throw and power-lifting,” he says.
It is such stories that can be taken as lessons and used as a beacon for each of us.