On a different track

Published - February 20, 2015 06:01 pm IST

Special children at Vegam. Photo: V. Ganesan

Special children at Vegam. Photo: V. Ganesan

There’s frenzied drumming, the roar of cheering supporters and an air of excitement. You spot joy on the face of 14-year-old M. Dhanushpriya, a child with multiple disabilities. She participated in the ball-throw contest that had participants rated on the distance covered by a ball thrown by them.  “Even though movement is a challenge for her, she had been practising this with her cousin,” her mother says. You see the same happiness in a beaming Pughazh, a 25-year-old with Down’s Syndrome, who participated in several contests from balloon-bursting to assisted-walking, but never won any. He nevertheless gets to stand on the winning podium — in appreciation of his enthusiasm.

Wheel chair races, assisted-walking races, pop-the-balloon contests, hitting a ball by listening to the jangle of beads within it, ball-gathering contests….with proud parents, enthusiastic teachers and upbeat friends and relatives cheering the participants. The city recently played host to Vegam 2015, a modified track-and-field meet that gave hundreds of challenged children the adrenalin rush of competitive sports. Vegam saw over 1100 physically and intellectually challenged children participate in 140 modified track and field contests conducted on a single day, which earned it a nomination for the Limca Book of Records for holding the maximum number of events in a single day for the differently-abled.

For the past two months, children like Dhanushpriya have been looking forward to this day. These kids hardly ever get to play, leave alone compete in an athletic meet. Unfortunately, in India, Paralympics is not as high profile as it is in other countries, and the fun of everyday sports is denied to challenged children. “Vegam would like to change this scenario,” says N. Satish Kumar, founder of Chennai Social Service, the NGO that conducted Vegam 2015.

“We checked with special schools, researched on events conducted at Paralympics and formatted track and field events to give people with disabilities a chance to compete,” says R. Venkat of Chennai Social Service.

Vegam could not have been a success without the efforts of the 300-plus volunteers who managed the show. Besides CSS’s regular volunteers, it included students of SRM Easwari, Aalim Muhammed Salegh and MOP Vaishnav colleges, professionals from organisations like the Cognizant Technology Solutions and Thomson Reuters, members of the Inner Wheel Club of Nolambur, NSS volunteers from Rotaract Club, and even kids like 15-year-old Ashwath and 13-year-old Nithyashri who have been volunteering in conducting Vegam for the past five years. Meanwhile, mural artist Senthil Kumar chipped in with 25 huge, inspiring paintings of athletes running on prosthetic limbs, wheelchair athletes and other sporting images. From being just an indoor carrom competition in 2007, Vegam has grown bigger and better every year. It has now become a calendar event in the city, and lately, some special schools have started helping their students train for it. This year, the meet’s Championship trophy was won by Clarke school for Deaf, Mylapore while the Little Flower Convent School for Deaf and Blind, Nungambakkam came second and the Arvind Foundation, KK Nagar came third. Incidentally, Vegam gave away trophies not just for the winners, but also for those who participated, and even a trophy for the best cheering team. At Vegam, everyone was a winner.

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