After the disparaging show of our able-bodied athletes at the Rio Olympics, the para-athletes did not let the country down. When a country of 1.252 billion (2013) people returns from the biggest sporting event with just 2 medals, courtesy two girls who saved face, a lot of discussions and what to do and what-not were held as a routine affair. But what was forgotten in the melee was that the Rio Paralympics were the next to follow.
The unsung heroes of the Paralympics toil without recognition and keep bringing laurels for the country. When the entire country was sleeping with no live coverage of the events, two young men have made India proud, early Sunday morning. Mariyappan Thangavelu leapt into history by bringing the first gold medal for India. The 20-year old from Tamil Nadu paved an inspirational victory in the Men’s High Jump T-42 event, finishing at 1.89 metres. But that’s not all; another young man from Uttar Pradesh, Varun Singh Bhati won the bronze in the same event, falling marginally behind Thangavelu, by jumping 1.86 metres.
Now, what is T-42?
Athletes are categorized as per their disabilities in the Paralympics. In T-42, these differently-abled athletes of the track and field games are categorized as participants with single “above the knee” amputation or any other similar disability or anything that is comparable. Mariyappan was just 9 years old when a heavy vehicle ran over his right leg and since then, he has had stunted growth weighing just 43 kgs. Varun, on the other hand was crippled by polio.
Thangavelu’s clear action and smooth landing earned him a lot of praise from the commentators. His steely resolve and the gritty determination prove that no dream is impossible.
Meanwhile, as Thangavelu and Varun hogged the limelight in Rio, the Twitteratti here was abuzz with congratulatory messages. The Prime Minister led the nation in congratulating the duo. Messages have poured in from all quarters, from sportsmen like Virender Sehwag to Big B, everyone expressed happiness at their performance. And India had something to cheer about.
It is heartwarming to see Thangavelu and Varun making headlines when, until a few days back, they were mere names in oblivion. Thankfully, their medal winning performances have not only brought them fame and recognition but boosted their financial fortunes as well. Monetary help and financial assistance as cash awards have started rolling in for Thangavelu. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms Jayalalitha has promised a 2-crore cash reward for him. Varun, certainly will also be rewarded for his feat.
The reality check:
At a time when the biggest ever Indian contingent to the Rio Olympics returned without a gold medal despite the excitement, these differently-abled athletes have proved beyond doubt what perseverance and determination can achieve. They have made themselves and the country proud and have become inspiration for millions. As in Harsha Bhogle’s words, “Thangavelu’s high jump gold at the Paralympics is stunning, inspiring and humbling.”