Promoting sports among disabled people in rural India - My Take by wheelchair tennis player, Dilip Kumar Gowda
In My Take this week, Dilip Kumar Gowda, a trustee of Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy in Karnataka, talks about how the organization plans to encourage and promote disabled sportspersons from rural areas. The academy offers assistance to para-athletes based across India, in the form of coaching and funds.
I am a wheelchair tennis player who took up the sport at the age of 25. All my life I had been looking for opportunities to play a sport and be physically active. However, these were few and far between when I was growing up. That is still the case, in many parts of India. I want to help change that for disabled people, especially those from rural areas.
Poor infrastructure in rural Karnataka
I was born in Mandya, which is a village in Karnataka, located over 100 kilometres outside Bengaluru. I come from an agricultural background. My father, like everyone else in my family, is a farmer.
At the age of three, a polio attack left me disabled and I started using a wheelchair. My parents sent away to a hostel where I stayed until I finished class 7, after which I returned to my village.
From that point onwards, life was a struggle. For everything, be it information or even basic facilities, I had to struggle. I could not attend college as it was located some distance away and commuting was a major challenge for someone using a wheelchair. For two years I stayed home after which I enrolled in a college in Bengaluru. After my degree I took up a job at a school in the administrative section.
Tennis happened by chance
It was at a school function that I came across wheelchair tennis. There was a programme where I heard a wheelchair tennis player speak about the game. I was hooked. I did some research and discovered that there were classes every week held at the Karnataka Wheelchair Tennis Association (KWTA)
I started going to the KWTA facility in Cubbon Park for practice regularly, every Saturday and Sunday. That is how my journey started. Mind you, it was a struggle getting to these classes. They were in Cubbon Park, which is very far from where I lived. Because of my wheelchair, my transport options were limited to a a Volvo bus. But I was determined to learn.
Since 2006, then I have been playing regularly. I have had the opportunity to play at games held at the national and international levels. Some of the events that I have taken part in are the Marina Open in Chennai, Tabebuia Open in Bengaluru, and the Malaysia Open Cup.
Wheelchair tennis is not the only sport where I have worked hard to make a name for myself. I have also participated in wheelchair marathons, and play basketball at the national level. I have also taken part in shot put and discus throw events, again at the national level.
I firmly believe that disability lies is in the mind. It is not in the body. Whatever be the challenge, we have to believe in ourselves. I have faced so many barriers, be it the attitudes of others or poor facilities, both as a child and even now as a seasoned sportsperson.
There are no proper training facilities for disabled sportspersons. Even now getting to different venues to play is a struggle for me. However, I have not lost my passion, my self-belief or the determination to play.
Sports for disabled people in rural India
This is not just my story. All disabled sportspersons face many struggles. This has to change and that is why some of us have some together to start the Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy (DMSA), which is based in Bengaluru. We are a team of para-sportspersons who have represented India in various events. We have faced many challenges ourselves so we know what we are fighting to change. We have a common aim is to seek, find, coach, and mentor para sporting talent in India.
The academy works towards training at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels in wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball, cycling and para-badminton.
Disabled sportspersons in India struggle on many fronts, right from funds, facilities, to training. In urban areas, there is still growing awareness and access. However, in rural areas, para sportspersons need advice, guidance, and motivation. Our primary focus is on reaching out to people here.
Awareness and health campaigns have brought down the number of polio cases but there are many cases of amputees and people with spinal cord injuries in India. We are starting out with collecting a database from rural areas about the exact numbers of people with disabilities so we can reach out to them effectively. We will also hold camps in rural areas where we tell disabled people about the government benefits and facilities available.
We have been holding inter-state tournaments in sports like wheelchair cricket and wheelchair tennis in different parts of India. In April 2017, we held India's first Wheelchair Cricket Tournament in Bengaluru, where teams from Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka took part.
This year the DMSA organized the National Wheelchair (WC) Tournament in partnership with Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab WC associations in 2018. This was held for the first time in India, with 12 teams from four zones.
Soon we will start our focus on rural areas to seek out sporting talent. People who perform well and show interest will be taken to the next level. Our first camp will be held in two to three months' time in Mysuru and Dharwad and Karnataka. Our focus at these camps will be on athletics, swimming, tennis, basketball, and cricket.
The coaching costs will be kept minimal so more people have a chance to come forward. There is an impression that disabled people are incapable. This is something that not just the able bodied, but even people with disabilities feel. We want to reach out to them and encourage them to break out of that mindset.