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No media coverage. No proper amenities. No real recognition.
If life hasn’t already been hard on them, we made it harder.
Nevertheless, they rose. Through grit, determination and a never-say-die attitude.
It takes more than just courage to stand up after you are planted face down in the ground by life.
Fighting life with disabilities, these Paralympians achieved what other able-bodied athletes could not.
As we salute the incredible power of human will orchestrated through the superhuman efforts of these athletes, let’s also not forget their gritty tales and bloodsheds to success.
1. Mariyappan Thangavelu (Paralympic Gold – Men’s T42 High Jump)
Life would have been otherwise for the 21-year-old high jumper from Tamil Nadu had he not won the gold medal at Rio Paralympics. After jumping a world record-setting mark of 1.89m, Mariyappan heaved a sigh of relief, not because he won gold, but because he could provide his poor family a better life.
– Mariyappan Thangavelu was born in a small village, 50kms away from Salem in TamilNadu. His mother sells vegetables on the streets to earn a living and repay the Rs 3 Lac medical loan that she took for Mariyappan’s treatment.
– When he was 5 years old his right leg came under the wheels while he was on his way to school. This left Mariyappan with a permanent disability.
– Even with his disability, Mariyappan showed interest in sports and was a promising volleyball player. He was spotted by coach Satyanarayana at the National Para-Athletics Championship in 2014.
– Under the watchful eyes of the national Para-Athletics coach, Mariyappan honed his skills and became the World No.1 in 2015.
– Even after winning numerous National and International Events, Mariyappan was not earning anything and could not provide his family a good living.
– The 2016 Paralympics games was a make or break for Mariyappan. He had to win gold to have a future and support his family.
– Mariyappan was overshadowed by Sam Grewe and Varun Bhati who both jumped 1.86m. It was in the final attempt that Mariyappan clinched gold after jumping an astounding 1.89m.
– At 5 feet 7, he is the shortest among the three medal winners. It was pure will and a superhuman effort that catapulted Mariyappan to the top of the podium.
2. Devendra Jhajharia (Paralympic Gold – Men’s F46 Javelin Throw)
The only Indian to win two Paralympic gold medals, Devendra Jhajharia made a pact with his daughter that pushed him to win gold at Rio Paralympics 2016. Before the event, he made a deal with his six-year-old daughter promising to come back home with gold if she topped the class in her upcoming exams. One day before the event, Devendra got a call from his daughter who said that she had kept her part of the promise and it was time for him to keep his.
– Devendra Jhajharia hails from a remote village in the Churu district of Rajasthan.
– He was 8 years old when he climbed a tree and touched an 11,000-volt live wire that knocked him out. He was rushed to the hospital and his left arm had to be amputated to save his life.
– Devendra spent six months inside home recovering from the massive shock. His family members did not know if he would ever live a normal life again.
– He took up sports after being ridiculed of his half arm. He was determined to beat his fellow able-bodied classmates to make it a point that he was stronger even with one arm.
– Devendra won the gold medal in Rajasthan state championships competing with able-bodied athletes. He was instantly recognized and was taken into the National Para-Athletics camp.
– Devendra Jhajharia became the first track and field athlete to win gold for India in Paralympics. He won a gold in the Men’s F46 Javelin Throw event in Athens 2004.
– The 2008 and 2012 edition of Paralympic games did not have the F46 Javelin Throw event and hence Devendra could not participate.
– He bettered his world record mark of 62.15m set in Athens in 2004 with a throw of 63.97m at the Rio Paralympics 2016.
3. Deepa Malik (Paralympic Silver – Women’s F53 Shot Put)
She is the first Indian woman to win a medal at Paralympics. Deepa Malik was 28 years old when a spinal cord tumour paralysed her from the waist down. This did not stop the mother of two to pursue life with ambition. Deepa took to sports to turn her life around and after 17 years of battling disability, she is now the new face of women with disabilities in India.
– Deepa suffered from a spinal cord tumour early in her life but miraculously came out of it. However, the same disease came back to haunt her and left her paraplegic even after 31 surgeries and over 150 stitches below her waist.
– Deepa refused to be bogged down by her adversities and decided to fight back. She wanted to be an individual who could take care of herself and hence took to sports.
– She was the first person with paraplegia to ride on the world’s highest and most difficult motor rallies.
– Deepa was a multiple-time national and international para-swimming champion. She switched to Athletics in 2009.
– She was the oldest athlete to be awarded an Arjuna award. She received the award in 2012 after clinching a medal in the Para Asian games in Incheon.
– Deepa threw a best of 4.61m from her six attempts that clinched her the silver medal in the F53 Women’s Shot put event.
4. Varun Singh Bhati (Bronze Medallist – Men’s T42 High Jump)
After suffering a polio attack which left his left leg deformed, Varun Singh Bhati could not move along with his classmates in school. But that did not deter the young lad who had a will of steel to prove that he was better than others at everything. Varun was exceptional in both studies and sports. His amazing vertical jumps in Basketball were noticed by coaches who trained him to be a high jumper.
– Varun Singh Bhati hails from Jamalpur in Uttar Pradesh where his father is a village head and his mother a homemaker.
– Varun competed with many able-bodied athletes throughout his journey as a high jumper.
– He made the cut for the 2012 London Paralympics after emulating the qualification mark of 1.60m. However, he was dropped owing to the availability of only limited slots.
– The 2014 China Open Athletics Championships was the turning point for Varun when he realised that he could comfortably beat top para-athletes from around the world.
– Varun went from strength to strength throughout 2015 and 2016. He won the gold medal at IPC Athletics Asia-Oceanic Championship with a new Asian record of 1.82m.
– Varun seemed set for a better finish after achieving a personal best of 1.86m at the Rio Paralympics before Mariyappan Thangavelu’s massive 1.89m pushed him to bronze.
These Paralympic heroes send out a strong message that the will to achieve and succeed is bigger than any disability in life!
A big salute to the real heroes of India. You did the nation proud!