Conquering disability

Brimming Fighting with determination

Brimming Fighting with determination   | Photo Credit: Photo: Soma Basu

Polio-afflicted J.Ranjith brought home a Bronze from the last Commonwealth Games. SOMA BASU salutes this sportsman’s spirit to fight.

Regulars at the Race Course stadium would have seen him. He is the first and the only physically challenged district athletic coach appointed by Tamil Nadu Government to train physically challenged sportspersons.

Stocky J.Ranjith Kumar brims with determination and expectation today as he trains his students for the national athletic meet for the physically challenged to be held in Rajasthan next month.

Alongside coaching, he is undergoing the rigors of training himself for the Para Olympics slated for 2012 in London. A specialist in discuss, shotput and javelin throw, Ranjith has sized up a formidable tally of medals from various international and national meets.

Between 2000 and 2008, he bagged 14 Gold Medals at national meets. Plus five Gold and Bronze each and four Silver at various international meets, including the last at the 18th Commonwealth Games in Australia where he won the Bronze. With grit and will power, Ranjith has conquered his disability and emerged a winner.

Barely three decades ago when polio rendered him diplegic at the age of 10 months, followed by his father’s death two years later, a bleak future stared hard.

His mother was forced to take up the job of a casual labourer at the Seethalakshmi Mills to feed him and his brother.

Growing up years was not easy. Often he would be sitting in his wheelchair staring at the sky and each time an aeroplane flew past, he would wonder how it looked from inside.

Ranjith attended school up to Class XI before taking up petty jobs like selling lottery tickets or helping as a guide. On the World Disabled Day (December 3) in 1999, God seemingly answered his prayers when he met Mr.Parasuraman, the Physical Education Teacher of Thiagarajar Model Higher Secondary School at a function.

Impressed with Ranjith’s well built and fitness, he enquired if he was interested in sports.

“I thought it was a cruel joke because I had no idea that with my crippled legs, I could still participate in any event. I met him next day at the ground and destiny changed its course,” recalls Ranjith.

From then on began his training in discuss, shotput and javelin. Whatever money he had accumulated from his petty jobs, he started using it on travel to participate in private athletic meets. And to his surprise each time returned with medals.

“My maiden winning performance was at a private meet at Chennai in 2000 where I bagged the gold in discuss and silver in shotput. That set me on a new high.” While a motivated Ranjith took to training seriously, what he lacked was good nutrition, equipment and knowledge about rules and regulations of sports events. Not to be deterred, his first major achievement came at the British Open Athletic Championship in Birmingham, UK, in 2003.

“It was a twin-dream materializing. I bagged a silver each in discuss and javelin. And all those planes I used to longingly stare at as a child, now I was actually flying in one of them!”

Ever since, there has been no looking back. Every year Ranjith returned with medals from different events on home turf and abroad.

It was in recognition of his achievements and particularly after the Commonwealth medal, the Tamil Nadu Government appointed him the district athletic coach in 2007.

Ever since his students too are doing him proud and have gifted him one international and two national event medals. Today his team of 37 students also includes a normal boy.

Ranjith even counsels physically challenged sportspersons with potential, and helps in arranging for their kits, sponsorship for travel and even jobs.

All his students are qualified international players. “Each time they return with a medal, I organise a function to honour them and their family,” he beams.

With every sports meet, Ranjith gets more determined to see his country’s flag being hoisted at the prize giving ceremony. “To be able to break some previous record is what drives me,” he says nonchalantly. He takes pride in the fact that Madurai district always returns a rich haul of medals from every event.

On and off Ranjith has received monetary help from the State and the Centre but still feels the Government has a long way to go in providing encouragement, support, resources to the physically challenged sportspersons.

One support that came most surprisingly his way has also turned into the most memorable one in his life. “I was on Kodai FM for a live interview when a caller tuned in to say she was very impressed by my achievement inspite of my handicap and wanted to meet me. I agreed and we met later where she proposed to me!” Today the couple is blessed with year old son and life has come a full circle for Ranjith.

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