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Pleasures of pain

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NEW FEATHER Neeraj George Baby who won a silver in his maiden all-India badminton tournament
NEW FEATHER Neeraj George Baby who won a silver in his maiden all-India badminton tournament

After his silver success in Orissa, Neeraj George Baby tells STAN RAYAN about his plans to start a small club for physically challenged badminton players in Kerala

Almost every day, as he works out at Aluva's Union Christian College badminton courts, Neeraj George Baby surmounts the pain barrier."My armpit becomes very painful. It takes a lot of strain," said the 20-year-old. If you're wondering why an armpit makes a lot of fuss during a badminton workout, it's because Neeraj plays the sport clutching a crutch. Despite losing a good part of his left leg to a bone tumour a decade ago, the youngster has pursued with the game with a lot of grit.

Bright days

He doesn't mind the pain though. In fact, with each pinch of pain, his face brightens up these days. That's because Neeraj, a final year B.Sc (Biological Techniques and Specimen Preparation) student at UC, finished runner-up in the men's doubles at the third all-India badminton tournament for the physically challenged in Bhubaneswar recently. He paired up with Gujarat's Girish Sharma at the event. That performance got him a berth for next month's Israel Open in Jerusalem. But since he is preparing for his final year exams, he has opted out of the event. The Orissa tournament was Neeraj's first event outside his home State. In fact, it almost came by accident for the youngster who trains nearly three hours every day. One day, while floating on the net, he chanced upon the International Badminton Association for the Disabled website and contacted the Indian unit. "I don't think we have any such tournaments in Kerala," said Neeraj who has played regular badminton for his college in the Mahatma Gandhi University championship the last two years."I want to start a small club for the physically handicapped in the State who are interested in badminton," said the youngster.As a little boy, Neeraj was good at badminton, the Rajagiri School student also used to play a bit of billiards at an Aluva club. But his life took a shocking turn when he was ten and his left leg had to be amputated because of the bone tumour. "My parents, teachers, friends and the counsellors at the Vellore hospital helped me a lot during that phase," said the youngster, the son of former Cochin College professor C. M. Baby, currently the manager of Medical Trust Hospital, and Dr. Shila Papoo of St. Xavier's College, Aluva.

Tough cookie

The tough cookie that he was, it didn't take Neeraj long to take the long but painful road back to badminton. As he grew, he has had to change his `leg' five times, each one heavier than the other. The present one, which is supported to his hip with a belt, weighs around 12.5 kg."Now, there's a new adjustable leg that weighs less than a kilo. But it costs Rs. 4 to 5 lakhs. I hope I can get that. It will be very useful for my badminton too and I don't think I may need a crutch with the new one," said Neeraj, also a good singer and a student co-ordinator of the UC College Tourism Club and the secretary of the Zoo-Tech association.With exams around the corner, combined studies with friends form a main part of his daily schedule these days. And once they are over, he is planning to work hard for the forthcoming National in Bangalore.Pain or no pain.

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