CHENNAI: Winning three gold medals in the 4th National Paralympic Swimming Championship held last week in Indore, hasn’t stopped 34-year-old Justin Vijay Yesudas from aiming higher.
The deputy general manager in Cognizant Technology Solutions tells us, “The medals mean a lot to me. But if I am able to get people with paralysis out of their homes and begin a new life, that would mean a lot more.”
The medals too, nevertheless, are a big deal — Justin clocked in 1.22 minutes in the 50m backstroke, which was even lesser than that of winners with a lesser level of disability, in some categories.
Work, spending time with friends, travelling and watching movies — Justin says he has no regrets and isn’t missing anything in life. An accident in 2004 left him paralysed below the neck, barring shoulder and elbow movement. But all that is now just a part of his life.
His daily schedule is tight — swimming every morning, weight training through the week, besides regular office work. It is the determination to continue being financially independent that made him come back to work immediately after recuperating.
“I began practising to be able to sit for long hours and moving from my bed to the wheelchair and then to the car on my own. After a few years, I wanted to pursue the other interests I had before my accident, like basketball.”
But Justin discovered that his stamina had gone down, not allowing him to play even wheelchair basketball. That was when he turned to swimming. “In the beginning, the pool guards were apprehensive, but they threw me in along with a float, and I eventually picked up,” he says. Justin took to swimming about a year ago and made the decision to get into competitive swimming soon. “YouTube was my coach. I picked up tips and techniques for speed and registered for the State championships in June. I was clocking in 1.4 minutes at this time.”
Having won four golds in the S2 category of disability and started practising for the nationals, he had touched 1.27 minutes just before the game.
“In the final event, I don’t know how I finished at 1.22,” says an all the more excited Justin.
“But I have a long way to go to meet international standards, although I can qualify at the Asian level now.” The challenges for him are far more than not being able to walk, as persons with paralysis have issues such as hypertension, bladder control and body temperature. Also. they do not sweat and the paralysed portions become a dead weight for their activities.
“Everyone tries to walk, but I know that I can’t. So, I continue doing what I used to instead of trying what I can’t,” he says.
The city, though, is yet to be disabled friendly. “I cannot go to a theatre or a restaurant without being carried by someone. The sidewalks should become accessible to wheelchairs.”
But Justin continues doing as much as he can, with his wife and family being his support system.
“I see many able people who find excuses not to do things. What I do is find reasons to do things, Life can be beautiful even after paralysis,” he says.