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"High time society becomes aware of Para sports"- My Take by Madhu Bagri

In My Take this week, India's first wheelchair tennis player, Madhu Bagri, who has won many national and international championships and is a also a hand cyclist talks about her struggles making a mark in the world of Para sports.

I was disabled at the age of one and half years after a polio attack. Even then, I loved taking part in sports. I was not even aware of something called Para sports. I would play badminton regularly though I knew little of the rules of the game. At some point I got busy with studies and earning a livelihood. I completed my graduation and gave up sports completely.

By the age of 38 years, I quit work and had a lot of free time. That is when I reminded myself that I used to be a passionate sports person. I decided to pursue sports professionally. Initially, sports was all about fitness for me, and I only knew how to play badminton. But soon enough, I started developing interests in other games like tennis.

In Ahmedabad, I used to be a regular at one of the sports training centres. One day, the tennis coach at the centre spotted me and asked me why I have not yet tried my hand in tennis. He pushed me to give it a try, and I found it quite interesting. I checked about wheelchair tennis online and realised that it was an internationally recognised Para sport. Wheelchair tennis became a passion for me and I wanted to compete in tournaments.

That is during when I met Pramesh Modi who runs a sports academy in Ahmedabad. He was my biggest pillar of support. He helped to train me in wheelchair tennis and was my constant source of encouragement. Through him I realised that I had the potential to participate in international level games. He was my main sponsor as well.

Mad about sports

All kinds of sports thrilled me. I wanted to try my luck at swimming. I consulted many swimming coaches who told me that I cannot do it. That is when I met swimming coach Amal Upadhyay who trains people with disabilities. In 2000, my tryst with swimming started. Renowned coaches told me that I would drown in three feet water. But today, I can swim in even 25 feet deep water. Upadhyay taught me swimming in just eight months.

In 2016, I had an injury where my rotator cuff was torn. The rehabilitation process was long. I even felt that my strength was missing right after the surgery. That is when I started hand cycling. I participated in the 2018 Asian Cycling Championship in Myanmar, and became the first Indian to bring home a medal in the sport.

There are many Para sportspersons like me who are struggling to make ends meet. We are unable to take our love for sports to the next level due to government apathy. Even corporate companies claim that they have CSR initiatives. But all that goes to big names and NGOs. Independent sports people like me are still struggling.

Lack of support and funds to work on sports has deeply impacted my game. Why is the government and other private companies turning their heads towards people like us? When there is a cricket match, all television channels come together to show it, no matter which part of the world it is happening. But when a para sports match happens, no one even features us. Honestly, I have given up due to this kind of apathy from concerned officials.

Disabled sports persons have their priorities as well. We cannot run from our routine life and concentrate only on sports. We have physiotherapy sessions and needs money for our living. Since I live alone on a wheelchair with no family support, I need to figure out things on my own.

It is high time for society to become aware of para sports. As a sportsperson, one must be sensible in choosing your sport. For a while, you might become the hero after winning championships. Other times, no one notices you. Keep yourself afloat during all those good and bad times because sports and whatever comes along with it must be a wholesome plan.

You can contact Madhu Bagri at mbagri43@gmail.com

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