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#IStandIndependent - With 3 gold medals in debut national event, para shuttler Palak Kohli makes her mark in style

In our August campaign #IStandIndependent on emerging para sportspersons, we feature Palak Kohli. From Jalandhar, Punjab, this teenager made a spectacular entry on the Indian para badminton scene in her debut national event this year. Read more.

With three gold medals in her first national para games this year, Palak Kohli has firmly established herself as a star on the Indian para badminton scene. Which is no small achievement when you consider how intensely competitive this sport has become with Indian para shuttlers winning over 240 medals in national and international events since 2014.

Palak, who is just 16, is a class 12 student of Police DAV Public School in Jalandhar. Her gold medals at the 3rd National Para Badminton Championships 2019 in Uttarakhand were across three categories - women's singles, women's double and girls' single U-19. She was also second runner-up in the mixed doubles, making her the master of all categories.

Watching her on court is an awesome experience, even more remarkable when you consider that she does not have a fully developed left arm, a disability from birth. That didn't prevent her from developing a keen interest in sports, despite many odds.

People used to stare at me and ask questions and make comments like bechaari. When I started going to school, I felt awkward and different, like I was a discard. I would never be included in games like cricket, volleyball or basketball. No one wanted me on their team and at the most I could be a referee or watch classmates play. I never got an opportunity because of the negative attitudes towards disability and the fact that I was a disabled girl made it harder. - Palak Kohli, Para badminton champion

Palak was 14 when a shopping trip changed her life. She was looking to train in badminton at the time and happened to run into Gaurav Khanna, Head Coach of the Indian para badminton team and widely credited with the amazing popularity and rise of para badminton in India. Khanna, who has a keen interest in finding and encouraging new talent, asked Palak to start training with him. There's been no looking back since.

"More than talent, there has to be the zeal to play", says Khanna, "and Palak has that in plenty. She also has great family support which is a big advantage. Girls tend to be harder to persuade, their parents are overprotective and that's understandable. Palak's parents have been there for her and support her financially and in terms of moral support".

Palak's father Mahesh Kohli, a businessman, is committed to backing her fully in her goal to excel at the game. "We are so proud of Palak. We never thought she would come this far and given her struggles with her disability in school, I am happy for her".

Winner, not bechaari

Badminton, says Palak, has helped her overcome the bechaari tag. "It has given me an identity. I have been made the school sports captain and people who earlier never wanted me on their team now ask for me. I am a winner now".

Palak's immediate goal is to qualify for the 2020 Paralympics. Going ahead she has ambitious plans. "For 2024 and further, it's only GOLD in Olympics", says this determined teenager.

Palak is currently training in Lucknow, flush with her recent medals haul at national and international events. She has had to wait long to take her shot. "When Gaurav sir started my training in 2017, the nationals were about to begin in Bengaluru he didn't allow me to participate. In 2018, he again refused as he felt I was not ready. He wanted to see me as national champion and said I should focus on my training and that's what I did. He told to trust him, and I am glad I did."

Palak has won two international medals this year too at the Uganda Para Badminton International Tournament - a gold in women's doubles and silver in women's singles. "Palak and Parul Parmar are currently ranked world number 4 in women's doubles", says Khanna. "If they hold this, they have a great future. I am working on both of them to ensure an Olympic qualification. It's a big plan and will be a surprise for India", he promises.

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