Almost a decade ago, everyone in Rangoli village, Maharashtra was surprised when Amol won the cricket match. When he removed his shoes after the game, everybody was shocked.
27-year-old Amol Sankhanna is familiar with this response now. In an accident, he lost all five toes of his right foot and is now 40 percent disabled.
An athlete, cricketer, and a sports teacher, he has become a ray of hope for Rangoli village in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district. Things changed for him when he was just two years old. “Our home was on the main road in the village. I was running about and didn’t realise when I had reached the road. A state transport bus went over my foot, and I lost all the toes of my right foot,” he narrates.
This never daunted his spirit as he would always be a part of the village cricket team. “Till grade seven, I never ventured out of my village to explore sports,” he says. Once his handicapped friend from Kumbhoj village asked him about going to Mumbai for a cricket competition. Immediately, Amol agreed and the experience kindled in him a spirit of pursuing sports.
He completed his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Physical Education and started working as a sports teacher in a secondary school and junior college in Minche village [30 km from his village Rangoli]. Picking up athletics was something he never imagined. “Once, my cricket coach Atul Dhanavade asked me to try athletics. Initially, it was difficult, but I loved running,” says Amol smiling.
In his career spanning close to a decade, he won five medals at the national level in the 100 m, 200 m, 4*100 m races and 4*400 m relay.
At the state level, Amol has more than 20 medals which include 10 gold medals in athletics and long jump. In 2013, his team won the state level cricket championship held in Mumbai.
This journey was full of hardships as he narrates, “In a rural setting, not much importance is given to sports, and nobody even talks about para-sports. Nobody gives us the travelling expenses to reach the venue. Next month, I will be competing at the national level in several states like Haryana and Tamil Nadu, but I’ll have to spend the money on travelling from my savings.”
Another major hurdle in this journey is the lack of exposure. “Most of the rural athletes don’t find the right guidance which is why they are restricted to their villages. Information should be conveyed to everybody because lack of awareness is the biggest issue for us. It was only in grade XII that I became aware of Paralympics when one of my friends spoke about it,” he adds.
He teaches more than 80 students daily and trains them both in athletics and badminton. The training starts at 4 a.m. for two hours, to resume in the evening after 5 p.m. In less than three years of his teaching at the school and junior college, the students have won seven national medals and close to 10 state medals. Every week, he goes to Kolhapur city and trains 30 disabled kids in cricket.
Currently, Amol doesn’t have a specialised coach for athletics and learns all his new tricks from the Internet. “My personal best is 11.75 seconds in a 100-metre race, and this was in a national-level event at Chennai in 2014,” he says proudly. His father Appaso, a farmer, has always been supportive of Amol’s decision to play sports.
While there are several issues like lack of a proper diet and proper facilities, Amol refuses to give up. His dream is to win a medal at the Paralympics as he says, “Everybody should practice a lot, then nothing seems impossible.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)