-Dev Ankur Wadhawan
An Indian paralympic at this year’s Paralympics 2016 achieved what no Indian Olympian did at the Olympics 2016 in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro. That is, winning the Gold medal. Mariyappan Thangavelu, 21 years of age, arrived in style and has brought immense pride to the country by winning the Gold medal in the men’s high jump T-42 event at the Paralympics. Mariyappan won the medal after jumping 1.89 metres. The high jump event gave reason for twin celebration as another Indian Paralympic, Varun Singh Bhati, won the Bronze medal.
Mariyappan is one of the only three Indians to have won Gold medal at the Paralympic Games. His story has been extremely inspirational in its own way. Its been a triumph of perseverance over tragedy and sorrow. Mariyappan, while he was only five years of age, had met with a horrendous accident. A bus, while he was on the way, ran over his right leg, crushing it from knee down. That left him with permanent disability. Already a poor family, the accident brought about added trouble for them as his mother, Saroja, his mother and the only earning member in the family at that time, had to support her son too. His mother worked as a fruit seller in Periavadamgatti, which is located close to Salem in the state of Tamil Nadu. Despite being a family with meagre means, the support he got, especially from his mother, did help Mariyappan immensely. Despite being herself an illiterate, Saroja encouraged her son to study and advance in life. He even managed to get admission in a BBA course in Salem.
Although as a young boy, Mariyappan had been keen to play volley ball, he took to high jump on the suggestion of his physical education teacher. He had won several high jump competitions at the school level. However, it was in Salem where a chance meeting with Bengaluru – based Satya Narayana helped change the course of his life for the better. Narayana managed to convince his mother to have him coach her son in Bengaluru. The excellent facilities and able support at Bengaluru, where Mariyappan trained at the Kanteerava stadium under the guidance of Narayana helped him make quick progression.
She had offered prayers for the success of her son at a local temple. However, she did not watch the event as had gone off to sleep and was in for a pleasant piece of news after being woken up by her sons at four in the morning. Bursting of fire crackers and distribution of sweets was a natural follow – up after the news of Marriyaappan’s success spread like wildfire, as several came to Mariyappan’s home to congratulate his mother, sister and brothers. Mariyappan’s tale is a simple one of courage, of achievement and of overcoming the odds to achieve, despite the circumstances.
The journey of Varun Singh Bhati, the Bronze medal winner, at the Parlympics Games 2016 has been inspiring too. Bhati managed to secure a personal best of 1.86 metres and ended up thirde in the High Jump event Bhati, 21 year old trained at the Sports Authority of India ( SAI ) in Bengaluru. He received support and saw his own talent groomed by Satyanarayana. Bhati, who pursued his education in Greater Noida, won a Gold medal at the 2014 China Open Athletics Championship. He was also a part of the Indian contingent at the 2014 Asian Para Games held in South Korea’s Incheon. He ended fifth at the event. He came into more prominence after winning a Gold medal at the 2016 IPC Athletics Asia – Oceania Championship and setting a new Asian record. He had recorded a jump of 1.82 m.
Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Singh Bhati have worked hard at achieving success, despite the odds. They may not have been relatively well known before going for the Paralympic Games and may not be as flamboyant as the latest Badminton sensation PV Sindhu or wrestler Sakshi Malik, but their achievements too have been extremely worthy. It would be a shame if the political class in this country does not shower them with adulation and does not honour them, after they way the achievers at the Olympics were.