Much to the knowledge of nobody, a team of eight men from India not only participated in the 6th Asian Para-Cycling Championship but also got India all the three medals in the 12.8km Individual Time Trial on the opening day of the championships, currently being held in Bahrain. While 25-year-old Abhishek Singh Sheku won gold, 25-year-old Divij Shah finished second and Harinder Singh, 27, won the bronze medal.
Sheku, who hails from Chandigarh, lost sense in his right leg when he was afflicted with polio in his childhood. Part of the three civilians in the team, Singh has already won the country medals in the last installment of the Para-Cycling Championships, which were held in 2013.
Shah, a 25-year-old financial analyst from Bangalore, lost his right arm in an elevator accident in Kolkata when he was four. Shah rides his cycle out of sheer passion and even races with able-bodied cyclists. Speaking from Bahrain, Shah said, "We are all very happy and proud and will get back to India soon."
Harinder, a below-knee amputee, was a member of the Border Security Force (BSF) when he lost his limb while serving in Jammu and Kashmir. All the three train at the Aditya Mehta Foundation, run by Aditya Mehta who himself was among the eight that represented Indian in the championships. He had won two medals in the 2013 championships.
It may be recalled that Aditya was in the news in October 2016 when he was forced to take off his prosthetic limb at Bangalore's Kempegowda International Airport before boarding a flight to Hyderabad. The incident had left him 40 minutes late (the time taken for putting the prosthetic limb back on) and a bleeding leg.
Apart from Aditya, the seven men were selected at a national camp that was held in August 2016 in Haryana. The other members of the team were Kaigoulal and Ajay Singh, both from BSF and Ajay Kumar and Birbhadra Singh from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
Kaigoulal, 26, from Manipur, is an above-knee amputee after he lost his leg in a train accident while Ajay, the oldest member of the team at 42, lost muscle-functionality in both his legs after a car accident in 2006 left him with seven broken ribs and a femur fracture in his right leg, apart from muscle loss in both his legs.
Both the men from CRPF lost their legs in the line of duty. Ajay Kumar, 31, is an above-the-knee amputee who lost his leg in a mine blast while taking part in an operation against Naxals in Bihar in 2014 while Birbhadra, 36, from Uttar Pradesh lost his leg in a mine blast in Jharkhand in 2013.
Aditya's foundation started work in 2013 with the objective of helping differently-abled men and women so that they could pursue sports and participate in sporting events across the nation. With the help of his foundation, Aditya — a five-time record holder in the Limca Book of Records — is trying to help a number of para-athletes who participate in a number of disciplines. Para-shuttlers Anand Kumar, Manoj Sharma and Mark Dharmai; and para-swimmers Bholanath and Alok Mondal are all part of the foundation.
This team of eight para-cyclists were chosen in August 2016 during a national camp that was held in Haryana. After that, the team started training in October to prepare themselves for the championship in Bahrain.
They then got the green light to participate in the championship after they all successfully managed to qualify in the heats held by the Cycling Federation of India. The team, their training and hardships, went mostly unnoticed in this cricket-obsessed nation. However, the foundation remains hopeful that one day, India will be a name to reckon with in the field of sports for the differently-abled.
"We are all very happy for the success of the Indian contingent participating in the championship," said Aditya, also speaking from Bahrain.
Despite the adversities that might mar their path, the para-cyclists remain hopeful. As Shah aptly put it: "It does not matter what you don't have as the only thing that matters is what you have and what you can do with that."
Updated Date: Feb 27, 2017 12:00 PM