CHENNAI: Sharad Kumar had just one goal when he landed in Ukraine in 2017. Medal at the Tokyo Paralympics. Living alone in Kharkiv, the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent postponement of the Games has been a nightmare for the para high-jumper.
Unable to make friends because of the language barrier, Kumar was still okay with life in a foreign land. But the practical difficulties of training have started taking an emotional and financial toll. Indoor training centres and stadiums are closed in Ukraine, even though the country with nearly 10,000 cases and over 200 deaths is not under lockdown.
“After three days (of the announcement to postpone the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics) it struck me that 17 months is a lot of time when you had a fixed goal, for which you had put in four years of hard work. For me, being in Ukraine is for one target. All of a sudden, it’s wiped out and you have to train for another one and-a-half years. You tend to lose interest,” said Kumar, who is funded by the Target Olympic Podium Scheme. Silver medallist in the 2019 World Para Athletics Championship, he also receives assistance from GoSports Foundation.
Training under coach Nikitan Uffgan in the city which hosted matches of Euro 2012 has not been easy. The funding he receives takes care of accommodation and coaching fees. For the rest, the 28-year-old has turned to the stock market. He wakes up at 5 am to check the market in India. What he makes from this covers his daily expenses.
“We are trying to act strong, but the time is taking a toll on us. I try to keep myself busy with trading and investing in the stock market. I’m trying to read more about the economic situation of the world and what is a good time to invest. I have plans to do online courses,” said Kumar, who is also pursuing a three-year course in International Business Management from the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute.
With Kharkiv experiencing cold weather and occasional showers, Kumar’s training has been halted since the start of the month. Living in a one-room apartment, all he is hoping for is some sunshine to start his fitness drills at least.
“I’m all by myself. I don’t have friends because they don’t speak English. I feel impatient. The best time for me is when I train for four hours. I’m at peace. When that is not happening, it is difficult to be in a confined environment,” added Kumar, who suffered a paralysis of his left leg at the age of two.
Born in Patna in a family of five — he has an older brother and a younger sister — Kumar tries to keep his spirits up by talking to family and friends back home. With no certainty over the return of normalcy, he says a call to head for India will be taken if the situation worsens in Ukraine. “I don’t know how I’m going to manage. If there is no training, what is the use staying here? It depends on if and when things become normal here.”