Until English athlete Roger Bannister ran a mile under a minute in 1954, it was thought impossible for humans to run that fast. Within a year, another athlete broke the barrier. Today, most international runners can run a mile a minute, proving that “impossibility” was only in the mind.
If sport is about overcoming limitations, para-athletes are some of the greatest mindbenders. For instance, how does a knee amputee play badminton, or a visually-impaired person remember all the positions in chess?
ASTHA, an NGO working for the differently-abled, organised a sports meet for persons with and without physical disabilities at Devanahalli in the outskirts of Bengaluru on Tuesday. Close to 70 participants played blind chess, wheelchair tennis, para-badminton and para-table tennis. Sport can empower persons with disabilities, feels Sunil Jain, a para-athlete and the brains behind the event.
“Think of how a person without hands would do archery,” he says. As this reporter racks her brain for an answer, he explains, “In the last two minutes, you’ve thought outside your body and its limitations. This is what a person with disability does every time they pick up a sport.” His goal is to offer the differently-abled athletes opportunities to train and hone their skills.
Shreya, an M.Sc. biology student of Mount Carmel College, played badminton for the first time at the event since losing her leg in an accident in January. “I used to play for fun earlier, but now I’m thinking of playing professionally,” she says. As she and other players pick up the racquet, the game is slower than usual, they pause to bend and pick the cork when it hits the floor, or stop when the shot is too far to attempt. But a few minutes into the game, the prosthetics seem to disappear and there are only a bunch of players giving their best on court. Some teams have persons without disabilities as well.
‘He’s our Dhoni’
In the chess room, a group of visually-impaired persons from Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled in HSR Layout blitz through the chess board as they feel and move their pieces. Playing against sighted players makes no difference to their game. It’s not just chess, Basavaraj, Prashant and Thimmaiah also play blind cricket, and being differently-abled has done little to quell their sense of humour. “He is the Dhoni of our group,” says Prashant, pointing to a friend, “Maybe you can join his fan club!”
Though the winners were announced in the evening, every participant wore a look of accomplishment, from the wheelchair athletes playing lawn tennis to the visually-impaired swimmers, who were trained in a workshop by international para-swimmer Sharath M. Gaikwad.
And to answer the question posed in the beginning: an archer Sunil knows grips the bow between his legs and pulls the arrow with his lips.
‘Accept life and move on’
Kiran Kanaujia, who became India's first woman blade runner after she ran with blades at the Mumbai marathon in 2014, felicitated the winners at the closing ceremony. “Accept life and move on … you can achieve what you want once you set your mind to convert your advantage to disadvantage,” said Ms. Kanaujia. Today she sees her disability as a gift. “God saved me to be here and to inspire people around me,” she added.