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Posted at: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM; last updated: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM (IST)

Man who made bitter better

Para athlete Amit Saroha has empowered those battling disabilities by introducing them to sports

Subhash Rajta

Record books will tell us that Amit Saroha won a single medal, a gold in the club throw event, at the Jakarta Para Asian Games in October this year. That’s not incorrect but it’s not entirely true either. This wheelchair-bound para athlete from Sonepat has been the driving force behind a few other medal-winning athletes at the mega event and, hence, their medals belong as much to Saroha as them.

And the winners vouch for it unequivocally! “It’s his medal, I just received it,” smiles Dharamveer, Saroha’s trainee and competitor in the club throw event. He won silver in the same event in which Saroha won gold.

Hisar’s Ekta Bhyan echoes Dharamveer’s sentiments. “All credit for my winning the medal goes to Amit,” avers the gold-medallist in the women’s club throw. “Without his support and guidance, there’s no way I could have had the honour of representing the country and winning a medal to boot.”

It’s, of course, not uncommon to see sportspersons, or for that matter people in other walks of life, being grateful to their mentors. Yet, this expression of gratitude sounds a lot more genuine and heartfelt. Maybe because it’s not just about sports and winning medals, it’s more about helping them pick up the pieces of their literally shattered lives. Saroha reached out to several para athletes in their most vulnerable moment and helped them get back a sense of purpose and hope in their lives.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself when a terrible accident left me paralysed waist down in 2011,” says Dharamveer. “I had lost all hope and the will to live when Amit visited me and inspired me with his own example. He said, ‘If I can leave the disappointment and despair behind and win medals, so could you’.

“I was desperate and needed no more encouragement. I just followed blindly whatever he told me to do. Ab sab set hai (Now everything is fine),” says a grateful Dharamveer. Saroha took Dharamveer under his wings and looked after his training and other needs, and his trainee responded with a silver medal at the Asian Games.

Rinku Hooda, a javelin thrower who won bronze at the Asian Games, also owes his success to Saroha. “I could become the youngest Indian to participate at the Para Olympics only because of Amit bhai,” says the 18-year-old. “Had he not helped me financially, I wouldn’t have been able to compete in the Olympics Qualifiers.”

Man on a mission

For someone who needs assistance even with his daily chores, it takes something special to offer a helping hand to others. Perhaps, it’s the firsthand familiarity with the pain, anguish and hopelessness that anyone goes through when an accident takes away their limbs or the ability to move and puts them in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. It’s, of course, not easy at all, but then Saroha isn’t the one to be easily deterred. Sample this. When he decided to take up para sports a couple of years after meeting a dreadful accident in 2007, which left him in a wheelchair, it seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. “My injury was really bad and people were scared to let me participate in competitions,” recounts Saroha. “At times, I was asked to give in writing that I would be solely responsible if anything happened to me.”

And when he thought of becoming an Indian athlete, the difficulty quotient spiked phenomenally. “The category (F51) I compete in features athletes with most severe injuries, mostly related to spine,” says Saroha. “Not a single athlete had represented India in this category before I entered the scene about a decade back. So I had no one to look up to.” Yet, he persisted and soon he was winning medals for the country.

Even as he kept climbing the ladders of success, he never missed out on any opportunity to help out others. Normally, people work to eliminate competition; Saroha, however, has nurtured his own competition with utmost care and affection, read Dharamveer. “A few friends of mine did hint why was I spending so much time on my competitor?” remembers Saroha. “But I never paid any heed to it. I’ve reached here after beating someone, and someday someone else will beat me. I’ve reached here with someone’s help, so it becomes my duty to help others.”

In case anyone feels it’s easy to be this generous in para sports because it doesn’t involve a lot of money and incentives, he/she is absolutely wrong. In most states, especially in Haryana, para athletes get same cash awards and incentives as able-bodied athletes.

“It’s one thing to mentor a fellow athlete when you have hung up your shoes, but it’s quite another to spend so much time and energy on others when you are still active as a sportsperson, says Ekta. “And that makes Amit very special,” she adds.

For Rampal Chahar, a high-jumper who won silver in the Asian Games, Saroha has been a mentor and a source of never-ending inspiration. “There may be bigger achievers in para sports than him, but none comes even close when it comes to supporting and inspiring fellow athletes,” said Chahar.

Emerging star

Ekta was no fan of sports. She was pursuing a career in medicine when, in 2003, a dreadful accident left her spine and dreams crushed. Her spirit, though, escaped unscathed. Realising a career in medicine was improbable in wheelchair, she simply changed tack and cracked the Haryana Civil Services in 2013.

When Amit learnt about this gritty girl, he wasted no time in asking her to try her hand at sports as well. “I was very hesitant, initially. I thought it was beyond me. Spending six to eight hours in office was difficult and exhausting enough, so the mere thought of spending a few more on the ground was frightening,” recalls Ekta. But, as is his wont, Amit didn’t give up and convinced Ekta. Soon she was training with him and Dharamveer. Five years down the line, Ekta says saying ‘yes’ to sports was probably the best decision she ever made. In these five years, she has won quite a few medals at the international level, Para Asian gold being her best achievement.

“It’s been an amazing five years. I’ve won medals for the country; my overall health has improved so much... I am so grateful to Amit for pulling me into para sports,” says Ekta. “And yes, I’ve also been selected for a National Award in a role model category.”

And then she says something least expected. “Sometimes, I feel I might not have achieved so much if I hadn’t met that accident,” she says with a disarming honesty. That’s quite something to say. It tells us she has no complaints from life, that she’s living and enjoying her life to the fullest. Dharamveer, too, seems to have left his despair and hopelessness far behind, quite evident with his liberal use of “ab sab set hai”.

Life has not been fair to these gritty athletes, yet they aren’t bitter. Rather they have chosen to become better, and live a life full of joy, hope and achievements. For this, they are eternally thankful to sports and the man behind their medals and happy lives!


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