Just 19 years old, shooter Avani Lekhara has created history by becoming the first Indian woman to win gold at the Paralympics. Here's the story of her incredible journey from Jaipur to Tokyo.
She entered the Paralympics as one of the youngest athletes, and is leaving as the first woman Indian gold medallist of the competition.
Shooter Avani Lekhara has etched her name in history by winning against all fathomable odds.
At 11 years of age, Avani met with a car accident that left her with a spinal cord injury and paralysed her lower half. Perched on a wheelchair for life, the youngster had to battle not only physical ailment but also the roars of anger and helplessness within.
But in her own words, “Life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those cards you hold well.”
Choosing sports against all odds
Driven by ambition, the youngster had her focus targeted on bringing laurels for the country from a young age. She is currently pursuing her BA LLB degree from the University of Rajasthan, and had always dreamed of becoming either a pillar of the judiciary or a gold clincher in athletics.
When the traumatic injury left her sedentary, it was upon her father’s encouragement that Avani decided to try her hand at sports. “In 2015, he took me to both shooting and archery ranges, and I tried both, but I felt very connected towards shooting since the first time I held a rifle,” she told GQ.
Thus began her journey as an athlete. A keen interest in the field made her read Abhinav Bindra’s autobiography ‘A Shot At History’. Bindra was India’s first individual Olympic gold medallist in shooting. It was his dedicated journey that inspired the young athlete to achieve heights of greatness, even when the road got tough.
Avani persisted through training to reach new milestones. In a conversation with The Bridge, she remembered how difficult training was due to the heavy weight of the rifle. According to her, even finding a coach was difficult — para-athletes work with different techniques which only specific coaches can teach.
“Some people believe it is easier for us, but it is not…To live with a disability is a victory in itself,” she had added.
Despite knowing this, Lekhara went on to bag multiple wins in the national and international circuit until her name began ringing alongside world-class shooters like Veronika Vadovicova and Iryna Shchetnik.
Her debut event, held in her home state of Rajasthan in 2015, saw her win the bronze medal. Since then, she has gained a World Number 5 ranking in women’s 10m air rifle standing SH1. She won silver medals at the IPC Para Shooting World Cup in 2017 and the Para Shooting World Cup in 2019.
This year she aced the first ever National Para Shooting Championship in the women’s R2 10m air rifle women’s SH1 with a gold, and the Al Ain World Shooting Para Sport World Cup with a silver.
Her first major international win, though, is the historic Paralympic medal. Her commendable performance in the R-2 women’s 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 equalled a total of 249.6. It won her a gold and set a new Paralympic world record.
That she achieved this feat the first time she set foot on the Paralympic ground is testimony to her daring attitude towards the realisation of her dreams. As she told The Times of India, “I can’t describe this feeling, I’m feeling like I’m on top of the world.”
With this feat the young female shooter has not only bagged yet another personal victory, but also won pride for paralympians across the country. Dilraj Kaur, India’s first woman para shooter, was elated when she told The Better India, “I feel so proud about Avani’s victory; I feel like I have won a medal. In my time, people barely even considered the possibility of a woman being a shooter. Today, we have all progressed by sharing in this win.”
Edited by Divya Sethu
Feature Image Source: Twitter