7 teams show their mettle at national para kayaking & canoeing event
Para kayaking and canoeing are acquiring popularity in India. A sign of this is that for the first time this year a national championship in these two events was held in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh. Until now the national championships for para athletes was held as part of the regular championships.
Thirty-five participants from seven states battled it out for top honours in the National Para Canoe Competition & Classification 2020. The setting was the scenic 800-km Gauri Lake in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh. This was the first national competition in para kayaking and canoeing for senior men and women. Until now, the para events were held alongside the national championships in the non-disabled category.
Separate event in paracanoe & kayak categories
The growing popularity of the game led the Indian Kayaking and Canoeing Association to hold a separate event.
In the previous events we saw few participants. This time the response was much better. We have been going to different states to promote para kayaking and canoeing. Their inclusion in the Asian Games has also helped promote the events in a big way. Some state governments are supporting us too. – HItendra Singh Tomar, Co-chairperson, ParaCanoe Bhind Kayaking & Canoeing Association
Para kayaking and canoeing enjoy great popularity worldwide. Three more ParaCanoe events have been added to the 2020 Paralympics programme. India does not have a global presence yet but Tomar is hopeful. “I am confident India will make its presence felt. We were able to train two players in two years for the Paralympics quota – Prachi Yadav in Paracanoe and Puja Ahuja in Parakayak”.
Paracanoe vs Para-kayak
Paracanoe requires the athlete to paddle one side while Para kayak needs paddling on both sides. Both demand superior upper body strength and good quality equipment. The latter, admits Tomar, is the major challenge. “In India, there are few companies manufacturing the boats we need. Importing a boat is expensive as each boat costs almost ₹ 4 lakh”. The boats are typically imported from Germany.
Among the players to shine at Bhind was Rohit Mathur in the para kayaking category. Rohit, who has polio, was a champion swimmer. He got hooked to para kayaking a few years ago. “I won a gold medal for the first time in 2017 at Indore and followed that up with medals in the following two years. I spend all my disability pension in training. It is tough going but I want to continue taking part”.
Rohit does not have a boat. His coach Manjeet Shekhawat got together with some others and built one for him. Shekhawat coaches at the Water Sports Club in New Delhi.
Poor quality boats the major challenge
“More disabled people are taking to the games but they need good boats to progress”. Para boats, adds Shekhawat, are different from those used by non-disabled players. “The boats regularly used are narrow. Disabled players find it hard to balance on them and that makes it hard for them to focus on their strokes. The boats used in the Olympics have a specific design”.
In India, only one company, Cargo Enterprises, makes boats for para kayaking. “These cost ₹ 80,000, which are much cheaper than the imported boats but lack finish and don’t give players an edge”, explains Shekhawat.
“We have three imported boats in India. If the games become popular, Indian companies may show some interest in manufacturing them” hopes Tomar.