H.N. Girisha was virtually unknown until he won a silver medal at the Paralympic Games in London

It is ironic that we recognise our heroes once they achieve their goals, but look the other way during their days of struggle. An example of this is Hosanagara Nagaraje Gowda Girisha, or simply H.N. Girisha, who was virtually unknown to the nation until he won a silver medal at the Paralympic Games in London early this month.

“My only wish is to wear the Indian colours at the Paralympics and make our village proud,” said the young man from Hassan district to this writer before he went to the Games in London. He achieved that and more at the Paralympics, returning home with a silver medal in high jump.

Many doors open

Before the London feat, the 25-year-old athlete ran from pillar to post to find employment to support his parents, who were impoverished farmers. The doors of opportunity have now opened after his sizzling show in London. Ajay Maken, Union Minister for Sports, has promised him a job in the Sports Authority of India, and cash awards have poured in too: the Union government announced a grant of Rs. 30 lakh, the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) chipped in Rs. 10 lakh and the Karnataka government has promised Rs. 5 lakh. In a laudable gesture, Saina Nehwal, shuttle ace and Olympic bronze medallist, offered Girisha a cheque of Rs. 2 lakh as a “small token in appreciation of what he had achieved against all odds”.

Girisha faced several problems while pursuing his sport, but support from the Samarthanam Trust, an NGO, and athletic coach Satyanarayana, kept him hopeful. His talent was recognised by the PCI, which sent him to several international meets, and he won a clutch of medals, but it was his triumph at the Asian Championship in Qatar that fuelled his Paralympics ambition.

Several hurdles

Girisha’s medal-winning performance should open the eyes of the authorities to the potential as well as the plight of disabled athletes in the country. A nation over a billion strong fielded just a 10-member team for the Paralympics. Lack of training facilities and coaches, and sheer apathy, has hampered the growth of the Paralympic movement in the country. The governing body, PCI, depends solely on government grants for its activities, and has not exhibited the foresight to find a long-term sponsor.

Girisha hopes that his success will bring about a change. “There are more like me out there who can scale great heights given the right support and encouragement,” said the champion.

Girisha’s feat has indeed opened a new door in his life, and it has also become an inspiration to the 60-lakh-strong community of persons with disabilities in India, giving them the hope that sports has the power to change their lives.

Though Girisha covered himself with glory, the PCI with its bungling ways was seen in a bad light at the Paralympics. The body failed to provide proper escorts for the Indian athletes, causing them hardship, and there were charges that the PCI did not disburse the allowances to athletes properly. Mr. Maken has issued show-cause notice to the PCI.

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