In 1965, a Pakistani firing took away his ability to walk. Never giving up, in 1972, Murlikant Petkar won India it’s first ever Paralympic gold medal in swimming.
In 1972, Murlikant Petkar won India its first-ever Paralympic gold medal in Heidelberg, Germany, for the 50 m freestyle swimming. Back then, he had set a world record of blazing across the waters in an impressive 37.33 seconds.
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The country might not have officially recognised medal winners before 1984, but this war veteran-cum-champion’s story has been etched in our hearts for its sheer courage.
Getting to know the historical champion
His career began in the Boys Battalion of the Indian Army, which saw him rise through the ranks to reach the war grounds of Pakistan in 1965. A craftsman rank soldier in the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), Petkar told the International Paralympic Committee, “I was out for tea in the afternoon when a whistle was blown to indicate an aerial attack. I tried to rush back to my room but the firing had already started.”
When his army camp came under aerial firing from Pakistani troops, he was left with multiple bullet wounds and was also run over by an army vehicle. The unfortunate incident rendered him a paraplegic for life.
But much before his army stint, he was an enthusiastic participant in many sports while specialising in boxing. He even won the national title in boxing in 1965 but once the injury marked his life, he had to let go of his mastered passion and switch to swimming for rehabilitation purposes.
Aceing whatever challenges life gave threw at him, Petkar used all available resources to train in the sport and attain glory through it.
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“Swimming gave a new meaning to my life. I trained harder and participated in the Paralympics after doing well at the national level,” he told Procaffenation.
During his tenure in the army, he even became the state champion in table tennis, javelin throw, shot put, discus throw and archery.
The era was replete with a lack of infrastructural support for para athletes, but Murlikant chose to persevere no matter what. “There was not much support for persons with disabilities in the society but we continued to work hard and participate in events as we wanted to prove that we were capable of representing the country and winning medals. I always believed in myself,” he revealed to Paralympic.org.
Murlikant went on to participate in the 1968 Paralympics and reached the finals in javelin throw and slalom racing along with bagging a gold in the 1972 games. He also clinched a gold medal at the 1970 Commonwealth Paraplegic Games at Edinburgh, Scotland.
His efforts were finally recognised in 2018, when he was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India.
“I had never thought I would get a Padma. I don’t know who nominated me for this honour. But I do believe that this award would inspire other para-athletes,” the humble paralympian told The New India Express.
Edited by Yoshita Rao