Physically challenged J. Ranjith Kumar, who has won the national award for Best Sportsperson with Disability, talks about his sporting career and the struggles he faced

J. Ranjith Kumar is polio-affected. But his physical deformity has not crippled his confidence. Today, he stands tall as a role model for the aspiring physically challenged sportspersons not only in Madurai but across borders.

At a time when people blamed the lack of infrastructure for sports in the city for their poor performances, Ranjith returned with bagful of international medals. He was the only physically challenged sportsperson to win the bronze medal in the discus throw event at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. He is the first person to be appointed by the State Government as the athletic coach for the physically challenged in the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (Madurai).

In recognition of his achievements, the Department of Disability Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment selected him for the national award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, 2013 under the category - Best Sportsperson with Disability (Male). He would receive the award from the President on December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Life was tough from day one for J. Ranjith Kumar when he decided to venture into sports. From the grounds he would return crestfallen everyday as no one paid heed to his ability or enthusiasm. But the next day would always be a new day for him. Such was his optimism.

“I surprised my friends by doing acrobatics on hands (running upside down). Memories of sitting alone in the classroom and watching my friends play are green. I hate it and probably that is what drives me always,” he says.

He refers to his childhood friends -- Rajendran, Arumugam and Prabhu – as his “legs”. They carried him around to films, temple festivals and fairs. “I wanted people to look at me not with sympathy but with an element of surprise. Then I was not aware of my potential.”

But for Parasuraman, his sports coach at the Madurai District Physically Challenged Association, Ranjith says he would not have come this far. “He understood me and trained me in throw events such as discus, shotput and javeline.”

Ranjith is a regular at the Madurai sports grounds. Cycling 18 km daily from Tirunagar to Race Course Stadium has never been arduous for him. His dedication and hard work paid when he returned with gold medals in all the events he competed in the Fifth National Physically Challenged Sports Meet-2002 in Bangalore. Subsequently, he got selected for the Eighth FESPIC Games in South Korea but had to run from pillar to post to raise funds for his travel. At his international debut, he hurled the discus to a distance of 27.50 metres and bagged the silver medal. He never looked back.

Ranjith has so far travelled to 15 countries, represented the country 12 times and has won five gold, four silver and five bronze medals.

At present, he is training 37 persons including eight girls, who are now bringing laurels having emerged successful in State-level meets and performed creditably at the national level. “Widespread awareness about physically challenged sports has done good to people like us. More than sports training, I try to motivate them and boost their self-confidence,” he says. Ranjith also does counselling for the parents of differently-abled children and provides them with information about Government schemes.