People look at my ability, not disability - My Take by Para Fencer Vibhas Sen
From swimming to fencing, Vibhas Sen has excelled in both sports. Being in a wheelchair has not been a barrier. In My Take, he talks about his journey to achieving these milestones.
I was affected with polio in both legs when I was three months old. In terms of daily life or schooling, I never faced a problem. No one, friends and family, looked at me like I was a disabled person. And that attitude helped a lot in shaping my spirit as well.
Faced barriers early
I became a national-level swimmer, even though I started swimming rather late in life. This is because I found a coach with great difficulty. I approached many swimming coaches, but they felt I would not be able to swim given my disability. Many were not willing to take the risk.
To excel at any sport, one needs to give it about 10-12 years. Swimming is also a very physical sport, and I realized that I would not be able to do it for very long. That led me to direct my focus towards another sport, where age is not a factor.
I did a lot of research. I wanted to take up a sport, that was not a linear one. I was looking for something that combined tactical moves and strategy. These are largely combat or team sports.
Learned fencing mainly through videos
I came across fencing, also called physical chess, during my research. I discovered that it was not dependent on age. I decided to take it up seriously. I was 27 years old at the time.
Few people fence in India, especially at a competitive level. I looked for fencing coaches, and I found three in Mumbai. None of them were familiar with wheelchair fencing. I met them and told them all about myself. They showed interest in helping me.
My coach and I decided to learn the tactics of Para or Wheelchair Fencing by watching videos and talking to other para fencers.
I won my first gold medal at the state-level in 2014. Soon I won a gold at the national level. I played at a tournament in Hong Kong and went up to the Asian Championship. I now play one or two international tournaments a year.
There is a lot of work that goes into this. I practice three times a week, for three hours a day. I practice intensely to stay on top of my game. I still swim to stay fit.
Yes, there are difficulties in sustaining this. There is no government support, so you have to be very dedicated and patient. If you train and practice without always thinking of a bigger outcome, there is a lot of satisfaction.
Sports' has changed the way people react towards me. People look up to me and I get so many opportunities to talk as a motivational speaker. They look at my ability, not my disability. Now they say, 'Wow! He is a sportsperson.' It's the biggest mind shift for others.