If you have limbs that are fully functional and not marred by any form of impairment, then you are way more privileged than a large segment of the population in India; 2.21 per cent to be precise (as per the 2011 census).
Many of us take our physical attributes for granted while there are countless others, for whom life is not just a struggle for their identity but also for opportunities. This is primarily because of the way society views a differently-abled individual—that they will never be efficient or productive enough.
But time and again, there have been remarkable examples of sheer grit, determination and resilience, where differently-abled folks have proved that the only obstacle in one’s path to success is the fear of failure.
One such young man is Raphel John from the Chellanam town in the Ernakulam district of Kerala. Having lost his right hand in a freak accident when he was five, life came to a standstill for the boy who nursed a deep passion for football right from childhood.
The game brought the best in him, and Raphel decided to dedicate his life to it, and because he was such a good player, he was always included in his school football team as the goalkeeper and had even played for local football clubs in the area.
In fact, one year, he had even represented the Ernakulam team during an inter-school football tournament when he was 15. Sadly, the next year he wasn’t included in the team and wasn’t given any explanation for the same.
“I did feel quite disheartened at that time, but I always had support from fellow players from the club I used to play for. They all treat me like a younger brother and have always appreciated and encouraged me to strive for the best,” says the 19-year-old to The Better India.
Four years later, things sure have fallen in line with Raphel’s dreams, as he will be part of the first-ever national amputee football team of India that will make its debut in Jakarta, Indonesia at the end of this month.
“It was Kishore Sir, an athletic coach, who told me about amputee football for the first time. Until then, I wasn’t even aware that disabled people like me had a chance to play professionally. With his support, I applied for the national team and fortunately got shortlisted to be part of the 18-member cohort, which consists of players from across the country,” he adds.
There is no doubt that people will wonder about someone with an amputated arm shouldering the responsibility of a goalkeeper.
“That’s how amputee football differs from the regular game. While all the other players are expected to have varying levels of impairments in their feet to play the game, the globally accepted guidelines for a goalkeeper includes the impairment to be only in the arms or hands,” explains Raphel.
Currently undergoing a month-long intensive training with the full team at Thrissur, Raphel is very excited to go international.
Hailing from a humble background, Raphel is grateful for his parents and siblings, who have been quite supportive of his love for the game right from the start. His father is a fisherman, while his mother is a homemaker.
Despite making a name during his rookie days, Raphel failed to find any support from either sports institutions or even the government. Sports gear can be expensive, and the financial state of Raphel’s parents did not permit him to even purchase proper football sneakers.
However, help came from entirely unexpected quarters— Major Hemant Raj, an army officer from Kerala came to know about Raphel and stepped in to support him.
“Major sir’s sister told him about me. One day, he called me up and asked me what did I need to up my game. I told him that a pair of professional football sneakers and gloves were something that I didn’t have. Besides a contribution of ₹ 20,000, he made sure that I got everything that I needed. I’m indebted to him, and it is conviction from people like him that makes me even more confident about myself,” says a grateful Raphel.
The team will be heading to Jakarta on November 30, where the first edition of Asia’s Amputee Football Championship will be held from December 1 to 5.
We admire Raphel for his unwavering determination and never-give-up attitude that is now helping him scale greater heights, and we hope that he, along with his entire team, leaves a mark in Indonesia.
All the best team!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)