New Delhi, Dec 5 (IANS): Inspired by the recent success of their superstar Paralympians Devendra Jhajhariya and Avani Lekhara’s legacy in Paralympics, Rajasthan will send a strong contingent of about 116 para-athletes participating in all seven disciplines at the first edition of the Khelo India Para Games.
Inspired by the recent success of their superstar Paralympians Devendra Jhajhariya and Avani Lekhara’s legacy in Paralympics, Rajasthan will send a strong contingent of about 116 para-athletes participating in all seven disciplines at the first edition of the Khelo India Para Games.
Over the past 6-7 years, para-athletes from Rajasthan have made a mark not just at the national level but also in marquee international events. Out of the 19 medals won at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, 5 belonged to the para-athletes from Rajasthan that included 2 Gold, one Silver and 2 Bronze medals.
At the recently held National Athletics Championships, Rajasthan ranked third, behind Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
With a strong contingent of 116 para-athletes, Rajasthan will vie to clinch top honours at the first-ever Khelo India Para Games, scheduled to begin on 10th December in New Delhi.
"Firstly, we are very happy and excited with the Union Government’s initiative to the first-ever Khelo India Para Games. Earlier, there were hardly any state tournaments or championships. There were only trials and that too only 30-40 athletes from state used to come and attend these trials,” recalls Mahavir Prasad Saini, Chief Para Coach of Rajasthan, who has closely witnessed the entire para journey of the state.
Jhajhariya, nation’s most decorated para-athlete, put Rajasthan on the world map when he won a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. Despite his gold medal feat, the para movement was crawling at a snail’s pace.
But the entire scenario changed after 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. While the able-bodied stars could manage only a Silver and A Bronze at the 2016 Olympics, the Paralympic squad brought home two Gold, one silver and a bronze medal.
Jhajhariya had again won a gold medal but this was not only more appreciated and celebrated but also had a bigger impact.
"In March 2016 there were 90 players that had come for the trial and today when I see around 1500 players for the National trials, my eyes are filled with tears of joy. There was no one to take care of our development, but today the government is giving these players so much that they don’t have to worry about anything. We are treated equally. I don’t think we can ask for anything more from government," said Jhajhariya commenting on the exponential growth of para-sports in the state.
Rajasthan's Avani, the golden girl of Indian shooting, is one of the most consistent players for India on the big stage. Apart from gold and Bbronze at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, she has many World Cup and World Championship medals to her name.
The 21-year-old is excited about the first-ever Khelo India Para Games: "I never saw the struggle that our seniors had to go through but I have heard their stories. Now together we all have got a chance to make Rajasthan proud of our performance. As I am into shooting, I don’t travel with Athletics or Archery team or any other contingent. But now, we all have chance to win medals for Rajasthan and that is a reason we all are excited for Khelo India Para Games," said Avani.
Sundar Singh Gurjar is another elite athlete of Rajasthan, who just won gold medal at the 4th Asian Para Games with a world record of 68.60 meters. “We have been seeing Khelo India Games since 2018 and used to think when will we get chance to become part of this movement? But now we are very thankful to the government for organizing this Khelo India Para Games.
"We feel that, there is someone who wants to bring us to the mainstream in every possible way," says Gurjar, who is also a bronze medal winner at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.