When T. Mariyappan won the men’s high jump gold medal in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, his life changed forever. Mariyappan, who at age five suffered a permanent disability in his right leg after being run over by an errant bus driver, became an overnight sensation.
Cash rewards poured in, with the Tamil Nadu government leading the way with a ₹2 crore cheque for Mariyappan. The Khel Ratna, Padma Shri and Arjuna awards followed, as did a felicitation event chaired by cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.
Similar glory awaited India’s other medallists — Devendra Jhajharia (gold, men’s javelin), Deepa Malik (silver, women’s shot put) and Varun Singh (bronze, men’s high jump).
The nation rejoiced in the success of these brave sportspersons.
The 2020 Paralympic Games, which commences at Tokyo on Tuesday, provides another life-altering opportunity to India’s 54-member contingent.
While Mariyappan and Jhajharia return to defend their crowns, there are a host of other candidates keen on having their moment in the sun.
Sundar Gurjar, who lost a part of his left hand in a freak accident some years ago, is a strong contender in Jhajharia’s event.
Para shuttler Pramod Bhagat, the World No. 1 in his category (SL3 - standing/lower limb impairment/minor), enters as a favourite.
The 33-year-old, a double gold medallist in the 2019 BWF World para badminton championship, most recently clinched the Peru and Brazil tournament titles.
The shooting contingent is led by Avani Lekhara, who features in four events.
Avani, affected by a spinal cord injury caused by a car accident, will look to improve upon her silver medal at the 2019 Para Shooting World Cup.
Avani’s colleague Rubina Francis (women’s 10m air pistol SH1), with a world record and 2021 World Shooting Para Sport Cup gold medal to her name, is another medal hope.
Every one of these para-athletes have already overcome tremendous odds to qualify for the mega event.
The stage is ready; it is now time to shine under the bright lights.