MYSURU: It is early morning! A 45-year-old physically challenged man opens his roadside tea stall in the city. Within minutes, regulars are at the counter ordering their beloved cup of ‘chai’, kick-starting their day.
As they heartily sip the tea, very few are in the know that the man serving them the beverage is an athlete who has clinched several gold and silver medals at various international para games.
R Manjunath, the passionate tea seller, emerged as a glorious sportsman and international para-athlete.
Manjunath’s childhood was not a bed of roses. Polio affected his left leg when he was just five years old, and he lost his father a year later. With a family to care for, he went from being a cab driver to a gas delivery agent to earn a livelihood.
But throughout he nurtured the ambition to make it big in sports.
With single-minded determination and through the support of a driven coach, Manjunath was able to muster the needed confidence to compete at various para-sports events, eventually bagging over 15 medals at the state-level, 12 at the nationals, and five at the international arena. Manjunath owes his success to his mentor Ramachandra, a retired railway employee and sports coach, who always stood by him.
“I started my sporting journey from badminton, but later my coach (Ramachandra) motivated me to get trained in athletics – and I began competing in javelin throw, discus throw, and shot put.
When I started practising javelin throw, I was able to manage just 6 metres, but with proper training, I can now cover more than 16 metres,” says Manjunath, who also sees his family as the driving force. Ramachandra, who is also the vice president of Karnataka Sports Association for Physically Handicapped, says, “Though Manjunath tried his hands at various jobs, he always had a keen interest in sports.
"I just showed him a path to fulfil his dream, and as a good learner, he progressed, and actively takes part in sports events today.”
While succeeding on the track and field, Manjunath has also been training other para-athletes. “There are hundreds of physically challenged people with talent. I have seen many talented para-athletes with the potential to bring medals but fail to attend major events due to sponsorship issues. There is need for the government to support and sponsor them,” he says.