Happy for Sindhu & Srikanth, but what about giving para sports-persons their due? - My Take by para badminton player, Girish Sharma
In My Take this week, para badminton champion Girish Sharma makes a passionate and compelling case for supporting and recognizing the achievements of India's disabled sports-persons.
I strongly believe that if you have faith in your abilities and are determined, you can achieve anything. That has helped me overcome many setbacks and barriers in life.
I come from an ordinary background in small town India. My father was in the Indian Railways and we are from a village in Rajasthan, called Nanwai. I was two years old when I lost my right leg in a train accident. I was playing near the railway tracks when my leg got stuck and a train went over it.
This took place in 1990 when we were holidaying at a small hill station. By the time I was taken to a hospital in the nearest big city, many hours had passed, so I did not get medical attention on time. There was also negligence on the part of the doctors and I had to undergo 2 surgeries.
At the time, my father was posted in Himmatnagar, which is a small town in Gujarat. I faced many barriers, when it came to medical care and infrastructure. Awareness was also poor so I would hear comments like -'His life is over'. My parents never said these things, but the negativity from others would get to me, even more than the loss of my leg.
Going to school was hard, because I had no crutches. My parents were determined to make sure I did not lose out on education and my mother would carry me to school and back. They were so supportive. We were three brothers and they never made me feel I was less equal or capable than them. My father would motivate me by saying I could do better than my brothers. My brothers would include me in all their games.
God may have taken my leg, but he made up for it by giving me a great support structure and a very social nature. I have always had many friends who have supported me.
My ambition since childhood was to join the Indian Army. As I grew older, I realized that there was no place there for disabled people. I started thinking about what else I could do for my country. I had always been active in sports, despite my disability. I would hop and jump and play games like cricket and football. I would fall, get hurt and even fractured my hand, but I never stopped playing.
I started playing badminton in 2002 at the local railway club. There was some doubt about whether I would be able to play. I would play the game hopping on one foot as I did not have crutches. There was a coach there, Vikram Sarvaiya, who took interest in me and taught me the footwork of using three steps. He also helped improve my stride and fitness levels. Senior players would also see me train and help me. Everyday, some senior player would play with me and I learned the game well over three to four years.
In 2006, I got the chance to play at the national para badminton championship. However, the owner of the court objected saying that my crutches would damage the court. I said I would play without crutches and proved my skills. My break came in 2007, when I was among the top eight players selected from across India or a tournament in Odisha. I beat the India number two and my career took off. My dream of doing something for my country came true when I was selected to represent India in Israel and Thailand. I won two silvers in Israel.
In 2015, I was ranked No. 2 in both singles and doubles for para-badminton players. My career highlight is a gold medal in Paralympics Asia Cup for Disabled.
However, It has not been smooth going always. I faced many financial difficulties and missed many tournaments from 2012 to 2013 because I had no funds. Disabled players have to run around for funds unlike able bodied players. We also have to take care of diet and medicines like them, but we are asked to justify the expenses and asked questions about how we were going to play and whether spending money on us was worth it.
I feel happy when I look at the recognition badminton players like P V Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth are getting, but its unfair that para badminton players don't get the same support. For the first time, para badminton will be played in the next Olympics, so why not give disabled badminton players the same support? When it comes to government recognition like the Arjuna award, disabled players who have set records 15 years ago are still waiting, while newer able bodied players have been given the award after winning just one medal.
This mentality has to change. Disabled players must get the same respect as other sports-persons. I am happy to be among the team of trainers at the Aditya Mehta Foundation. This is an organization started by Aditya Mehta, a physically disabled cyclist, who lost his leg in an accident. We hold camps to train and motivate disabled sports-persons to fight for their rights. It is time para sports-persons in India got their due.