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A second chance through sports

Paracyclist Aditya Mehta Photo: Nagara Gopal  

Soldiers injured at the war front lose more than just a limb. It’s the loss of dignity that’s tough to cope with. From fighting against all odds in inclement weather conditions, imagine being confined to a wheelchair. Sports give these injured soldiers a chance to breathe free and rediscover themselves. Earlier this year, when a team of volunteers from Aditya Mehta Foundation met more than 500 such soldiers from different central armed forces, they were met with familiar stories of disbelief and lack of hope.

Hyderabad-based para cyclist Aditya Mehta recalls meeting soldiers who’ve lost a limb or paralysed and were sceptical when broached with the idea of trying a sport. “My left arm and leg are paralysed, what can you make me do?” was a question posed by a former soldier with Indo-Tibetian Border Force. At the end of the training programme, the former officer was game to cycle from Manali to Khardungla, irrespective of whether anyone accompanies him during the journey.

The first such national camp that reached out to personnel from BSF, CRPF and the ITBP among others involved months of counselling. “Of the 600 people who were counselled, 120 took up different sports. A team of physiotherapists observed as each candidate tried varied sports and identified their core strengths. Some were good at swimming, others at cycling or standing badminton. A few, who thought they’d limit themselves to playing badminton from a wheelchair, showed the confidence to participate in standing badminton games,” says Aditya.

Aditya Mehta Foundation, working in partnership with different groups of central armed forces, aims to build dedicated teams in each sporting discipline. A cycling team will begin training in Hyderabad soon, badminton teams will train in Mumbai and Bangalore, and so on. “The toughest part, we observed at the camp in Chawla, Delhi, was making amputees overcome the mental block,” says Aditya.

In the last eight months, Aditya hasn’t cycled much. He and his team have devoted their time for the counselling and training sessions. It all started when Aditya felt he should be able to help other amputees rise above their disability. When he first rode from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, he felt inhibited to go all out and raise funds. “Coming from a business family, I felt I shouldn’t be asking for money. At that time, I didn’t realise there were many others who would benefit from the funds collected. I thought if people read my interviews, enough money will pour in. It didn’t. The next time, when we rode from Manali to Khardungla, we learnt how to raise money. The funds went towards helping 50 para athletes; we bought them wheelchairs and other equipment,” he says.

Aditya and his team felt the need to give back and help others in need, both monetarily and motivation to start life afresh after a debilitating accident. He knows there are enough para athletes looking for sponsorship to take part in international events. “We are working towards helping more people participate in the Asian championships scheduled to be held in February 2017,” he says.

A fund-raiser to this effect will involve Aditya and a team cycling from Wagah border to Delhi from September 20 to October 2. “The route we take will cover interior zones where we will meet people and counsel them to join us at the camp at Chawla, Delhi,” he says.

Apart from training, Aditya points out the need to have physiotherapists trained in a classification course. “A team of classifiers is equipped to categorise candidates into different groups. For example, an above-knee amputee shouldn’t be competing with a below-knee amputee in international sporting events. Classifiers from abroad charge a hefty sum to do that work, so we need to have our own team in place,” he says.

The biggest cheer comes from observing the transformation in participants at these camps. When someone confined to a wheelchair is able to swim, cycle or play badminton, Aditya considers the team’s work a success.


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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 6:04:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/A-second-chance-through-sports/article14620053.ece

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