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#ThankYouTeacher - Coach Gaurav Khanna has scripted India’s biggest success stories in Deaf & Para Badminton

Through September in our campaign #ThankYouTeacher, we celebrate people who are guiding and mentoring people with disabilities across diverse fields. This week, we feature Gaurav Khanna, who is credited with bringing India to the top in the field of deaf and para badminton. His students tell us what makes him such a remarkable teacher.

Talk to any student of Gaurav Khanna and you get numerous insights into what makes him not only a great teacher but someone ho touches lives in small ways.

In the case of 16-year-old Palak Kohli, who took the para badminton world by storm this year, it all started with a chance encounter at a shopping mall where Khanna sensed a spark. World champion Pramod Bhagat says it is the faith and determination Khanna showed in him when beset with injuries, and for two-time world champion Manoj Sarkar, it's the warmth and interest Khanna takes in every player.

Clearly, Khanna is a coach with a difference. A former national-level player, who quit after a knee injury, he brings to the para sports scene in India, passion and dedication, a killer combination.

It all started, he says, thanks to his mother.

After I gave up professional badminton, I became closely acquainted with the disabled community thanks to my mom. I even learned Indian sign language so I could communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing people. They would seek me out when they needed help or faced some difficulty. One day I saw a group of deaf and hard of hearing people attempting their strokes at a badminton court and I started helping them better their game. This became a regular pattern. -Gaurav Khanna, Head Coach, Indian Para Badminton Team

Turning Point

This became a full-time profession with Khanna training many players with hearing disabilities, many of whom went on to perform well nationally and internationally. "We took part in the Summer Deaflympics held in 2009 at Taipei, and the Asia-Pacific Badminton Championship for the hearing impaired in 2010. We won a bronze". His skills in sign language were an asset as he was able to communicate with the players.

Khanna was then asked to take on the responsibility of training and mentoring India's para badminton players. He is the only Indian to be head national coach of the Indian Deaf and Para Badminton teams. Under his guidance, India has seen the emergence of world class players like Pramod Bhagat,Parul Parmar, Suhas L Y and Manoj Sarkar, which is remarkable given how delayed official support has been.

"The scene today is good with the government more aware", says Khanna. "That was not the case at the time we started out. I looked for sponsors and it wasn't easy". Even today, the support is mainly from the GoSports Foundation, which regularly organizes camps. "We owe GoSports a lot. They have been a pillar right throughout and remain so".

Pramod, who has been training under Khanna for many years now, says he owes his Arjuna Award and successes to him. "He has made a major difference to my game. I give up on myself now and then but, he never does. "Post his incredible successes, Pramod is being wooed by many coaches. "I am getting many offers to train with others, but I will stay with sir. He is tough but lifts us up mentally and physically."

The toughness, Khanna is clear, comes from not having the bechaare perspective towards people with disabilities. "Everyone looks at a disabled person as just that - disabled, deserving of sympathy. I hate it when people think I am doing some charity or social service. This can happen to any one of us, including me. That does not mean you ignore their strengths".

Khanna is also a qualified international umpire and referee and has worked as international match control and live scorer for high level events. This means he brings to the court a superior level of knowledge and skill.

"I have never trained with anyone like him", says Manoj, who used to play in the non-disabled category earlier. "My game used to be one-sided in the sense I would play to my strengths which meant that once my opponent sized me up, I lost advantage". Khanna raised his technical knowledge of the game. "He helped us understand the rules so we could talk to the referees and opponents and taught us to devise strategies to outthink opponents".

The fact that this level of skill has not been acknowledged with the much coveted Dronacharya Award by the Centre rankles Khanna's students, many of whom took to social media to voice their disappointment when he was ignored this year as well. "India has few coaches as dedicated as him", says Manoj. "I have worked under coaches who were never on the court but would claim credit for our wins". Palak adds, "So many things changed for the better after I started training under him. My ratings improved too. He is truly the Dronacharya of our lives".

Khanna too feels let down by the lack of official recognition. "My wife tells me you are so devoted to coaching but what are you getting for it. For three years in a row my players have won Arjuna Awards and no other coach has worked so much for disabled players, so I was hopeful of getting the award this time".

The setback, he is clear, does not dent his passion. "The award would be good of course but the goal remains the same, to ensure India stays on top in para badminton".

ALSO READ:Meet the 3 teachers who are enabling blind & low vision students to ace competitive exams

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