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Who Is Devendra Jhajharia, the Olympic Gold Medallist India Forgot

Javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia from Rajasthan is India’s only athlete with two Paralympic gold medals to his name. Here is his life story, as he goes for a third one at Tokyo.

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Javelin thrower Devendra Jhajaria epitomises an invincible spirit. The now 40-year-old track athlete has always perceived the glass half full, bringing home one laurel after the other despite unimaginable challenges.

Jhajharia is the only Indian to have ever won two gold medals at any Olympic or Paralympic games – one at the 2004 Athens Paralympics and another at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. He has held a world record (62.15m in javelin throw) and is the first para-athlete to be given the prestigious Padma Shri. In 2004, he was also awarded the Arjuna Award for his contribution to the field of sports in the country.

But what makes all these feats even more spectacular is the fact that he achieved them with one arm. Sharing what inspired him, the great Paralympian had told India Times, “When I looked around I saw so many people who didn’t have both arms or both legs and I thought I was lucky to have my right hand.”

A story of tragedy and victory

Jhajharia was born to a family of farmers in the Churu district of Rajasthan. Since the beginning, he would play around with friends – but only as a hobby.

At the tender age of eight, his life would change forever. “I was climbing a tree in my village and accidentally touched a live cable, which was apparently an 11,000-volt cable. So severe was the accident that (my left hand) had to be amputated right away — nobody was sure whether I would be able to recover from it,” he had told The Hindu.

But a true sportsman never backs down. Devendra’s life is a telling example of that. Facing ridicule and sympathetic criticism among friends and villagers only motivated him to make it big. Soon, he would reach the sports fields of his school every day to observe the sport that “required only one arm”.

“You can try and imagine how a parent would feel when someone says stuff like that about their own child. But my parents never let me feel the heat… I was striving to not make myself appear weak to the world. And the only way to achieve it was to succeed, to be a champion. To be a champion, you had to be a sportsman, so I started focusing more on the sport. In my 10th standard, I started practising every day and soon became district champion in the Open category. I kept on winning medals in inter-college, district, and State events,” he had also told The Hindu.

There may have been a paucity of finances at home, but this athlete’s heart was full of determination. To begin his training, Devendra went on to make his first javelin with locally available bamboo.

 

Thus the making of a star gold medallist was set in motion. Since then, he has put in consistent efforts into training relentlessly and achieving glory on both the national and global stages.

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Catching up with the star Paralympian

Currently, Jhajharia is aiming for his third Paralympic gold. Nothing is ordinary about this track star, as even in qualifying for the Tokyo Games he broke his own record with a new world record of 65.71.

 

Commenting on his preparations for the big event, he told Paralympics.org, “I am training hard and following a well-thought-out programme set by my personal coach Sunil Tanwar. I am confident that just like in Athens and Rio, I will win a gold medal in Tokyo too.”

 

By persevering through the greatest odds, Devendra Jhajharia has not only championed milestones on a global scale but also steered a conversation around Paralympic sports.

“The government is working for differently-abled people. People’s attitudes have gone through a world of change since I started playing. They don’t think that the differently-abled are incapable of doing great things. But a lot more needs to be done. If you go abroad, there are multipurpose stadiums for para-athletes, where wheelchair-bound people can go anywhere and play any sport,” he said, to LiveMint.

We wish him all the best!

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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