I will always be grateful to The New Indian Express,” says Joby Mathew, the dwarf world champion. An article on Joby was published in the newspaper in 2005, with a request for sponsorship, along with the sportsman’s phone number. Joby wanted to take part in the world arm wrestling championships held at Utsunomiya, Japan.
Many people called to offer support, but only one person provided concrete help. And that was Tamil actor Sharath Kumar.
“I found it difficult to believe that a superstar like Sharath Sir would call an ordinary person like me,” says 36-year-old Joby. Eventually, when Sharath came to Kochi for the shooting of the film, Khaki, they met and the actor gave Joby the `1 lakh that he needed.
When Joby landed at Kuala Lumpur airport, on route to Tokyo, he went across the terminal to board his connecting flight. Soon, he was followed by two women and a man, pushing a wheelchair. When Joby walks, it is like a jump and he uses his muscular left hand as a pivot. Joby, who is 3’ 5”, was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency. That means his feet are tiny while his upper body is like that of a normal adult. In fact, he has only four fingers on either foot. So one of the women trailing him at the airport requested, “Please get into the wheelchair.” Joby replied that he did not need one, but they kept following him. So, to mollify them, he got onto the wheelchair.
But at the world championships, Joby showed that he was not disabled at all. He won three bronze medals in the normal as well as the differently-abled category. Thereafter, till 2012, he won 11 gold, silver and bronze medals in championships held in Spain, Egypt, and Israel.
Joby stole the limelight again in August this year when he won an unprecedented five golds —shot put, javelin, discus and singles and doubles badminton—at the World Dwarf Games held at the Michigan State University.
To achieve this extraordinary feat, Joby had been training non-stop for four years. Apart from swimming, he goes to a nearby gym to train under K V Chitrangathan, a former Mr Kerala. Joby also practises the shot-put, javelin and discus. Once a month, Joby drives down to Bangalore in his Santro, which has been specially designed for him, to get trained under Ramesh Tikaram, an Arjuna Award winner. “Joby is determined, focused, and naturally talented,” says Ramesh. “What I like about him is his willingness to correct his mistakes.”
And along with his hectic training schedule, Joby holds a regular job. “During the day, I work in the legal wing of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL),” says Joby, who has a MA, as well as a law degree. “It is the BPCL which has been sponsoring my participation in all international tournaments since 2008.”
And on the personal front, too, he found his happiness. At a seminar in 2007, he met research scholar Megha Pillai, (5’5”), who is also a Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam dancer. Within months, they became friends.
“I proposed to Megha and she accepted, although she is a Hindu, while I am a Christian,” says Joby. The couple tied the knot on November 16, 2008. Today, they are parents to four-year-old Jyothis.
When asked what was the secret to his success, Joby says, “We should understand and accept our strengths and weaknesses. That can only happen if we love ourselves. I told myself, ‘I don’t have legs, but I do have hands and can make use of that.’ However, to achieve anything, you do need the help of God,” he says.