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Coaching camp for blind women athletes gives them a leg up on the world stage

As the gun goes off Tanya Mehra bursts off the starting line. Her legs start pumping even harder midway into the race and she reaches the finishing line way ahead of the others.

So what if this 15-year-old athlete from Jammu cannot see? Tanya is a rising star in the world of para sports, with two bronze medals to her name in the 2017 nationals in the 100m and 200m categories.

Tanya was among the 24 award-winning Paralympic athletes who took part in the recent week-long northern region coaching camp for visually impaired women. Called Vision 2020, this is a joint initiative by the Indian Blind Sports Association (IBSA) and Usha International, leading consumer durables company, to attract and train women athletes.

My target is the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. At this camp I have been able to improve my speed and correct various techniques, like how to take the start before running. I also got to do the shotput. I can see that my speed has improved a lot after the training here. We were given useful tips about adequate nutrition and rest as well. - Tanya Mehra, Blind athlete

Under the watchful eye of Satyapal Singh, chief coach, IBSA, and Dronacharya Award recipient, athletes from six states - Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, spent a week at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.

The camps are held every year in four regions across India, the aim being to encourage more visually impaired women to take part as well as seek out talent in rural areas.

"We found that the presence of blind female athletes is far smaller than the males and we decided to do something about it", says David Absalom, Honorary General Secretary, IBSA. "Their families do not allow them to leave the home, and sports anyway gets low priority when it comes to women. Through these camps, we give them the opportunity to train and take part in the nationals. We are targeting the 2020 Paralympics, so now we want to train them for world level events."

In the pool were seasoned athletes who had taken part in international camps. Like Gulshan from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, who is currently studying in the Delhi University.

"I have always been interested in athletics. At the camp we get proper training on techniques like the hand movement and leg placement during discus throw. I was selected for a seven-day camp in the United States through IBSA as well. I plan to take sports up seriously."

This collaboration with IBSA is part of its larger commitment towards promoting sports in India, says Komal Mehra, Events Head, Usha International.

"We have always supported women's participation in sports and we have been working with people with disabilities for 4-5 years now. We will support them through camps like these so they can do their best and make it big. The aim is to enable them to represent India for the 2020 Paralympics. "

Many visually impaired from IBSA have won international laurels. Like Ankur Dhama, India's first blind para Olympian, who is from Delhi. Dhama has been consistently winning medals for India at leading para championships around the world.

Blind athletes from IBSA have also been selected for Asian Para Games to be held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in October this year. They will be among those leading the Indian contingent, a fitting honor given their immense contribution to putting India on the world map of para sports.

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