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6 Inspiring Para Athletes Who Broke Stereotypical Shackles & Reached the Paralympics

#TaanePalatDe campaign by Thums Up is an effort to laud the spirit of the Paralympic athletes of India who have broken every stereotype to reach the arena of international recognition.

Since its Paralympic debut at the 1968 games, India has come a long way in churning out legendary sportspersons of sheer mettle. The country has sent its biggest contingent yet of 54 para athletes participating in nine different sports to the Tokyo Paralympic Games 2020, which began on August 24.

These athletes have taken fighting social judgement as well as infrastructural paucity in their stride. Be it by training in village ponds or coping with bruising injuries, they have found ways around all hindrances.

Thums Up in partnership with the event has launched #TaanePalatDe to salute the boundless courage of these life champions. As a video campaign, the initiative showcases the stereotypes and personal adversity that each player has overcome to reach this arena of international recognition.

Meet the six sportspersons featured in this witty campaign to summarise the spirit of the nation’s stars:

1. Mariyappan Thangavelu

In 2016, Mariyappan Thangavelu made India proud with the T-42 gold in the high jump competition from the Rio Paralympics. His leap was recorded at a mighty 1.89 m.

The champion from Tamil Nadu had his leg crushed from the knee down when a truck hit him on his way to school. His disability garnered mordant criticism, and remarks like “Ek taang, tu kya maarega chalang?” (How will you jump with one leg?) would ring in his ears. His family also struggled financially after he lost his father.

Working odd jobs and training extensively, Mariyappan went on to receive the Arjuna Award and Padma Shri award in 2017 and, recently, the Khel Ratna.

He qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics after securing the third position at the IPC World Athletics Championships, 2019.

2. Sakina Khatun

Debunking what everyone assumed when they’d say, “Tu khud ko uthale, wahi bohot hai,” (It’ll be better if you first try lifting your own weight) Sakina Khatun has become India’s first female powerlifter to qualify for the Paralympics.

Sakina was attracted to sports from a young age, but an affliction of polio meant fragile health and braving four surgeries to survive. She dove deep into sports when her doctor suggested swimming for muscle rehabilitation.

While that did not take her to the heights, she aspired to reach, a meeting with powerlifter Farman Basha changed her fate.

Neither her disability nor her humble background deterred her as she began training in full swing. She went on to win a silver at the Para Powerlifting World Cup. She is also the only Indian woman para-athlete to ever win a medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

3. Sumit Antil

Sumit Antil dreamed of success like everyone else. He was a wrestler by passion looking for an ordinary job in his village in Haryana when a bike accident in 2015 took his left leg and changed his life forever.

With a prosthetic fitting, wrestling was out of the picture. That was when videos of para athlete Oscar Pistorious turned his gaze to javelin throw. Training was not easy, but the determined trailblazer overcame grave physical challenges to win a silver medal at the 2019 World Para Championship. In 2021, he broke the world record in F44 and F64 categories at the National Para Athletics Championship.

The chart buster haul of 66.9 m qualified him for the Tokyo Paralympics 2020, making him yet another javelin thrower that is set to make the country proud.

4. Suyash Jadhav

Swimming runs in Suyash Jadhav’s blood, as it was his father, a state level swimmer, who introduced him to the sport at the age of three.

But the young boy lost both his hands in 2004, after he was electrocuted when playing with his friends. “Bine chappu ke tairega kaise?” (How can you swim without an oar?) — he heard hurtful things like this, but once again, Suyash found inspiration in his father and motivation from his own will to succeed.

Clocking countless hours at the gym, he became an Asian Para Games swimming gold medallist in 2018 and was named Para Sportsman of the Year at the Indian Sportstar Aces Awards. Suyash is now answering trolls as the first swimmer to represent India at the Tokyo Paralympics.

5. Navdeep Yadav

Less than 5 feet tall, Navdeep Yadav hauled a 7-foot-long javelin to qualify for the F41 event.

But this para-athlete was a wrestler to begin with. Hailing from a village in Haryana, his dream was to follow in his father’s footsteps. This had to take a back seat due a chronic back injury that left him unable to compete in the ring.

Watching javelin thrower Sandeep Chaudhary in all his glory, Navdeep was inspired to switch to the track sport. His height issues, though, would pose several problems in achieving this aspiration.

When people said, “Tujhse bada toh tera bhala hai,” (Your spear is bigger than you) it resonated with his own doubts. But Navdeep bounced back with conviction and improved his technique to work around his disability. His international debut in 2017 made him an Asian Youth Para Games gold medallist and the sportsman is now all set to nail the Tokyo games.

6. Avani Lekhara

Avani Lekhara’s journey is testimony to the sheer mental strength that para-athletes display in fulfilling their dreams.

At the young age of 11, Avani suffered from a paralysing spinal injury that stationed her on a wheelchair. On the suggestion of her father, she decided to try her hand at sports to build a professional career. Shooting spoke to her, and she put all her might into training despite the pain and difficulty of a debilitating injury.

Today, the 20-year-old holds World Number 5 position in Women’s 10 m Air Rifle standing SH1, as per the World Shooting Para Sports Rankings. She also bagged the silver medal at the 2021 Para Shooting World Cup in UAE.

Breaking all stereotypes against para-athletics, she has become one of the youngest players to enter the Tokyo grounds this year.

Glued to the screens, the crowd is now buzzing with applause for the success of these players. In one such Tweet, para gold medallist and Paralympic Committee of India chief Deepa Malik came out to support the cheer of the campaign. She aptly wrote that these are champions who ‘do not wait for the favour of fate, but make their own destiny’.