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Para-athletes defy the odds but struggle for money

Published: 14th September 2016 03:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th September 2016 08:03 PM   |  A+A-

  • After India’s first Paralympics gold last week, City Express talks to a few Para-athletes in the city to understand their challenges

  • Despite making the country proud at several international Paralympics competitions, they continue to struggle for monetary support and recognition from the government

After India’s first Paralympics gold last week, City Express talks to a few disabled sportspersons in the city to understand their challenges

Despite making the country proud at several international Paralympics competitions, they continue to struggle for monetary support and recognition from the government

As Mariappan Thangavelu vaulted his way to a Paralympics gold medal last week, several others of his ilk watched wistfully from the sidelines as history was being made. Para-athletes  sportspersons in the state say their stories are nowhere near as happy, constantly being fraught with ‘what-ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’.

At 15, Deepa J, a wheelchair-user, would sit at the periphery of her school ground, watching her classmates dribble, sprint and volley. At a time when she thought that was the most she could do, she learnt of the special training in athletics given at the Madurai Disability Welfare Association and sprung at the opportunity. “I won a silver medal and two bronzes at the Belgium Athletics Meet in 2004 and a bronze at the 2005 Open Athletics Meet in Germany,” beamed Deepa, now 34.

Winner of the Kalpana Chawla Award in 2010 and now a stay-at-home mother of two, Deepa has not set foot on the track and field in six years. “It cost us around Rs 60,000 including travel and entry fee expenses for the 2005 meet in Germany. We had to pay for it ourselves because the State Government said they would not be able to help us,” she said. “Even after I participated in the Asian Games, I was reimbursed less than half my expenses.”

She remembers being intimidated by foreign athletes on her tours abroad — their build, regimen and confidence. Participants like her from Tamil Nadu, however, ate what they got and practiced when they could. “Before tournaments like these, we’d wake up at 6 am, practice for two hours and then set out to find sponsors until dusk. Then we practiced for another two hours and returned home. How could we even dream of winning under these circumstances?”she said.

ANU3.jpgAnuradha J (41), who took up archery in 2011 and hung up her bow two years later, recalls an experience along the same lines. “Foreign players used to have their own personal physicians while we had to struggle to get a manager and coach to accompany us,” she rued. Even during her first year as an archer, Anuradha won a silver medal in the F55 category at the national level sports meet in Pune.

“According to the rules, we had to shoot with a recurve or a compound bow. So our team of seven from Tamil Nadu got a part of the expense from sponsors and paid the rest on our own after borrowing heavily,” said Anuradha, who had been the only woman member in the team. The recurve bows cost Rs 25,000 each while they bought second-hand compound bows at Rs 50,000 each, which had to be sourced from Hyderabad. With no help from the government, in 2013, the team had to sell their bows off to repay their debt. And it still wasn’t enough. “I still pay the interest for the bows even today,” she said.Years later, all she is left with are the medals and the memories.

NOORUDIN7.JPGWhile Anuradha is now employed at the MGR Medical University as an Assistant Section Officer, there are others who are not as lucky. S Nooruddin (36), a fencing champion who has won several gold medals at the national level and a bronze in the 2010 Asian Para Games, said, “I used to work as an auto driver. The equipment for fencing itself would cost around Rs 1.5 lakh. When I’m the father of two daughters with no financial support, it doesn’t matter how much I love fencing, I cannot pursue it.” Nooruddin, who competed in the Men’s Individual Foil-Category B, is now looking for a job.

Kanniyappan A, also a national level athlete in the F57 category, said he faced the same problems. But to him, what hurts more is the lack of recognition for sportspersons. “When you win medals and come back home, there is nobody to receive you at the airport. We don’t need a luxury car like other athletes in the normal category. We just want someone to congratulate us at the end of the day.”

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