Palak Kohli, Sakina Khatun, Jyoti Baliyan, Aruna Tanwar, Pramod Bhagat, Avni Lekhara, Parul Parmar, Rubina Francis, Kashish Lakra, and Manish Narwal -- These 10 Indian athletes have overcome some incredible odds to carry their nation's hopes at the Tokyo Paralympics. Here are their inspiring stories.
The Paralympics will be held between 25 August and 06 September 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Unlike the Olympics where many group sports dominate, at the Paralympics, individual athletes are more at the forefront.
Be it shooting, archery, wrestling or badminton, behind every individual athlete is a story of incredible struggle and determination. Here we take a look at 10 of them.
1. Palak Kohli – Para Badminton
A condition developed at birth prevented 18-year-old Palak’s left hand from developing properly. But this did not stop her from taking up sports.
After being denied opportunities to play during PE classes in her school, Palak took it upon herself to excel in any sport and prove herself.
She approached para-badminton coach Gaurav Khanna and decided to train regularly. She moved to Lucknow from Jalandhar and enrolled at his academy full-time.
In 2019, she started participating in national and international-level tournaments and also secured a spot at the Tokyo Paralympics.
2. Sakina Khatun – Powerlifting
Hailing from a village named Korapara in Kolkata, Sakina battled poverty and Polio at a young age before achieving success in powerlifting. Her family was supported by her father, a daily wage worker, her brother, who works in a tailoring shop, and her mother who works as a maid in their locality.
Being athletic since childhood, Sakina played various sports. However, she took up powerlifting after a coach identified her talents and encouraged her to take it up professionally. Since there were no facilities in her district, Sakina left home and went to Punjab and Bengaluru to train.
In 2014 Sakina became the first Indian woman to win a medal for the country in para-sports at the Commonwealth games.
3. Jyoti Baliyan – Archery
A resident of Uttar Pradesh, 27-year-old Jyoti is the only Indian woman archer to participate in the Tokyo Paralympics.
The daughter of a farmer, tragedy struck Jyoti at a young age when she was administered a wrong injection in her leg. This led to her suffering from Polio. However, the young woman did not give up on becoming a sportsperson and took up archery in 2009.
Today, she is one of the top para-archers in the country and is ranked 17 in the world. She secured this position at the World Championships held in the Netherlands which also qualified her for the Tokyo Paralympics.
4. Avni Lekhara – Shooting
In 2012, at the age of 10, Avni was in a car accident that caused severe spinal cord injuries and left her wheelchair-bound. Three years later, her father encouraged her to take up shooting as a professional sport. She agreed and tried both archery and rifle shooting.
But after reading Olympic Gold Medalist Abinav Bindra’s autobiography – A Shot at History, she decided to pursue rifle shooting professionally. Despite being doubtful about her decisions, Avni continued to work hard and practise regularly.
Naturally, things fell into place, Anvi participated in several states, national and World-level championships, and even won medals. The silver medal she won at the Para Shooting World Cup in UAE secured a position for her at the Tokyo Paralympics.
5. Aruna Tanwar – Taekwondo
The daughter of a driver, Aruna was born with weak arms and three fingers in each hand. In 2008, the Haryana girl enrolled herself into a martial arts class and her parents supported her decision.
Apart from spending their savings, they also took loans to ensure Aruna could practise with top-level coaches, and attend various competitions. However, her hard work and determination would make them forget all the hardships they go through.
In an interview with The New Indian Express, she explained how her parents and peers never treated her differently owing to her condition. This not only gave her the courage to take up the sport but also excel in it.
The 21-year-old who is ranked fourth in the world will be competing in the 49 kg weight category at the Tokyo Paralympics.
6. Rubina Francis – Shooting
Born with a disability in her leg, 22-year-old Rubina from Madya Pradesh took up shooting in 2015. Though she was excelling in her academics before, she wanted to do something more. When a shooting academy named ‘Guns for Glory’ came to advertise in her school, Rubina knew this is what she wanted.
Her parents – who work as a motor mechanic and a nurse, supported the decision and enrolled her in classes. This is where her journey started, but it was not an easy one.
The classes were not cheap and her parents had to spend a lot of their savings for the first year until she was sponsored. In an interview with Firstpost, she said that her parents never made her feel like it was a costly sport and continued supporting her. Apart from this, she even overcame social stigmas in her family.
After winning several medals in State and National level competitions, Rubina clinched the gold medal at the Para Sport Cup held in June 2021. She participated in the 10m air pistol event for women, set a world record, and qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics.
7. Pramod Bhagat – Para Badminton
Struck by Polio at the age of five, Pramod’s father, a mill worker, was given a tough choice by the doctors – choose if the doctors should work to save his son’s hands or legs. His father chose his hands. Polio eventually rendered Pramod’s left leg ineffective.
But, this never stopped young Pramod from being fascinated by sports. During his teens, he would go to play badminton with his neighbours which he says gave him more strength. Eventually, his fondness for the sport made him enrol for professional training and Pramod would always practise with able-bodied senior players.
Soon, he started playing so well that he participated in regular tournaments and even won district competitions.
Then he focussed on para-badminton and played his first international match in 2009. 10 years later he has appeared in six international tournaments and has secured a position at the Tokyo Paralympics.
8. Parul Parmar – Para Badminton
Parul Parmar, a resident of Gujarat was diagnosed with Polio in her left leg at the age of three. The same year she faced a serious injury that fractured her collar bone.
After recovering from her severe injury as a child, the doctors suggested she exercise regularly to stay fit. Parul’s father – who was a regular badminton player – took her with him and made her exercise. Soon she picked up the racquet and began playing badminton, and eventually went on to participate in tournaments.
Soon, the 49-year-old won the Arjuna Award and the Eklavya Award in 2009.
9. Manish Narwal – Shooting
Born with a congenital ailment in his right hand, Manish began playing football during his school days. However, his condition prevented him from playing professionally. Being sure of wanting to pursue a sport as a career, on advice from a family member, he took up shooting.
His father, who was always supportive of his son’s decisions, took him to a shooting range at Ballabgarh in Faridabad. In 2016, he enrolled for training but was not very fond of the sport. Manish even thought of quitting because he wanted to pursue an outdoor sport. However, after a competition, Manish realised that he was good at shooting and continued training.
Today the 18-year-old has won 19 national medals and recently broke the world record in the 10m air pistol at the Para Shooting World Cup, 2021.
10. Kashish Lakra – Club Throw
A sport-lover since childhood, Kashish (17) has played various games including skating, ball badminton, among others. In 2017, when she was in Class 8, she took up wrestling professionally and started participating in National-level competitions. However, on one tragic day, during practice, she slipped and injured her spinal cord.
The doctors said she won’t survive for more than 48 hours, and even if she did, she would be bedridden for life. But the fighter in her did not quit. After spending a week in the hospital, she returned home, quit school and began regular treatment and physiotherapy to regain her strength.
Within five months, she was better and tried to re-enter the same school.
But Kashish was denied admission because she was wheelchair-bound. Understanding her love for sports, her physiotherapist referred her to a Paralympic coach who began training her for Club Throw.
She began training regularly, and with support from her family and coaches, the 17-year-old has qualified for Tokyo Paralympics as the youngest in her category.