After lull, Paralympians put India in spotlight again in 2021
“When you fail, you learn a lot about yourself and come back stronger. Life need not have limits. Having an opportunity in life is important but what defines you is what you do with that opportunity,” said Richard Whitehead, who holds the world record for athletes with a double amputation in both legs and won gold at the London 2012 Paralympics in world-record time. Richard competed in Rio at the age of 40, also ran marathons, making him the first double leg amputee to run the length of the UK.
The Indian Tricolour was unfurled for the first time at the Paralympic Games when Murlikant Petkar swam the 50-metre freestyle in a world record time of 37.331 seconds to give India her first-ever goldin the 1972, Paralympic Games held in Heidelberg, West Germany (then). It set the Paralympic movement in the country in motion and 1984 saw Joginder Singh Bedi win silver medal in the men’s shot put, following it up with a pair of bronze winning performances in the Discus and Javelin throws as well. Bedi was the first multi-medal winning Paralympian from India. Another medal came the country’s way in the same Games through Bhimrao Kesarkar, who with a throw of 34.55 metres, won a silver medal in the men’s javelin throw L6. He also competed in the men’s 100-metre freestyle L6 event but finished fifth. India ended up at 37th place out of the 54 participating nations.
Despite India’s continued participation in the Paralympics, medals continued to elude the country. However, jinx was broken during the 2004 Games when Devendra Jhajharia won gold in javelin throw and Rajinder Singh Rahelu won bronze in powerlifting. India came 53rd out of the 136 participating nations.
The most glorious moment of the Paralympics in India came when Deepa Malik won a silver medal at the 2016 Paralympics in shot put at Rio de Janeiro. She did not hang her boots after the prized performance. Deepa picked up another gold in the 2018 F-53/54 javelin competition at the para athletic Grand Prix in Dubai and since then has retained her top ranking in same category. Her quest for risky ventures landed her in adventure sports to earn accolades from sports-lovers world over. She is actively associated with the Motor Sports Associations & Clubs of India. She drove,700 kms on a more than a week hazardous terrain drive on freezing heights to 18,000 feet (5,500 metres) passing through arduous Himalayan foothills of Leh, Shimla and Jammu.
Deepa was an active associate in nation building as a member of the working group in the formulation of the 12th five-year plan (2012–2017) on sports and physical education. As an environmentalist, she is brand ambassador and consultant for Disability Inclusive Accessible Infrastructure and “Smart Cities” project. Her last post was the presidentship of the Paralympic Committee of India. She was awarded Arjuna Award in 2012, Padma Shri in 2017 and Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award in 2019.
The present crop of Indian Paralympians have perhaps taken a leaf out of their predecessors’ books and claimed 19 medals and hopefully this record will be bettered in the future.