For 27-year-old Kumar Manikandan, a world paraclimbing champion, winning has become a habit.
A year after he brought accolades to the country by winning gold at the Paraclimbing World Championship in Paris in September 2012, Manikandan almost did an encore at the International Paraclimbing Cup at Arco in Italy last week. A triumphant Manikandan returned home with the silver medal.
A day after returning from Italy, this young Dalit athlete was back at Kanteerava stadium, where he resumed his rigorous two-hour rock climbing sessions.
A lot has changed for him over the past year. Unlike when he had to struggle for sponsorship and parental approval on his way to Paris in 2012, the journey to Arco was much smoother. “This time,” Manikandan told The Hindu, “I was able to mobilise funds as some companies came forward to sponsor my trips abroad. Earlier, there was pressure from my parents to look for remunerative jobs, now my parents are proud of me and they encourage me to pursue my profession.”
He seems to have crossed the initial hurdles. He comes from a humble background, living in Srirampura slum, where his father was a carpenter and his mother a homemaker. “My parents would tell me to get a job so that I could support my family. But now we have moved into a bigger house in Prakashnagar. I get time to focus on the sport without having too many things to worry about.”
The athlete, who has been practising rock climbing for 11 years, trains by himself sans a coach. He said he was aiming for the gold at the next series of the championship, which will be in London later this month.
Manikandan, whose right leg was affected by polio, is an inspiration to many. Choosing not to talk about his disability, he says, “That is not a hurdle. I do not even have time to think about it.”