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Special Olympics 2019: Behind Priyanka Dewan's three-medal haul in Abu Dhabi, a lifetime of grit and grin

New Delhi: It is hard to miss Priyanka Dewan's grin. The 19-year-old loves to be happy, and if one discreetly notices her — fiddling with her fingers or staring into the emptiness — one would find that Priyanka's grin never really deserts her. It has stayed with her through troubled upbringing, and it is fixed firmly on her face in Abu Dhabi, where she is currently competing at the Special Olympics World Games.

 Special Olympics 2019: Behind Priyanka Dewans three-medal haul in Abu Dhabi, a lifetime of grit and grin

A general view of the opening ceremony of Special Olympics World Games 2019. AFP

Priyanka is part of the 378-strong Indian contingent that is participating in the 15th edition of the Games, where she has already won a clutch of medals in Roller Skating. Last weekend, she won a gold in 500-metre race, a silver in 300-metre, and a bronze in 2 X 100-metre relay, thus earning the distinction of bagging a medal in each of the events she participated in. Unsurprisingly, the grin has only got wider. However, if one goes back in her life, one finds that weeping has never been her thing.

As an infant, Priyanka would turn blue when she wept. Gradually, her speech blurred, and it became clear that she would need special care. In crude parlance, it is called mental retardation. Intellectual Disability, if you will. Priyanka never saw her father; he was too flabbergasted to have a girl child, and promptly divorced Anurita Dewan. The feisty mother, though, soldiered on.

"There were pressures, for sure. You know how our society sigmatises such conditions, but I was determined to let her have a life," Anurita says.

Priyanka was enrolled in a 'normal' school where she continued till Class 6, before complaints regarding her aptitude began to pour in. Gradually, she began to withdraw in her shell until, fed up with fear and humiliation, she simply refused to go to school.

Priyanka was then enrolled in city's Kulachi Manovikas School, where she was encouraged to participate in the cultural activities. Her interests in music and talent on the keyboard surfaced soon after, as did the now-ubiquitous grin.

The road to inclusion was as bumpy for Priyanka as it was for her family. For a non-working mother, raising a child with special needs comes with its own set of challenges, but Anurita never gave up.

The financial needs are still somehow managed by Priyanka's maternal grandfather's pension, while the emotional care is provided by the doting mother.

"Despite her condition, she is always so happy, and it makes all of us happy too. She is a brave, independent girl who likes to do things on her own. She operates her smartphone, is comfortable with technology, and is generally high on life," adds Anurita.

In 2007, Priyanka joined the Special Olympics Bharat sports program in her school, where skating caught her fancy. Prabhat, her coach, observed that while her basic skating skills were good, her technique needed to be honed.

Prabhat worked on Priyanka's posture, crossovers, and body movement, while ensuring she trained with children without Intellectual Disabilities. The subtle ways of inclusion resulted in Priyanka developing into a confident individual, who just refuses to be overawed by what life throws at her.

The ongoing Special Olympics World Games are Priyanka's second dig at the premier event; she participated in the 2015 edition in Los Angeles, USA as well, but failed to finish on the podium. All that changed this year.

“With consistent training and practice, Priyanka is sure to win a medal,” coach Prabhat had told Firstpost before departing for the UAE. This weekend, his prophecy came true on the back of Priyanka's indomitable will. However, more than the medal itself, Priyanka was elated to meet athletes from various countries. The special child who was shunned by her father at birth, continues to skate past doubters, maintaining her lively grin along the way.

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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2019 20:07:46 IST

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