Being different is a challenge and to make it count is an achievement.
Four differently abled men from Kerala, who successfully competed in the Para National Games held at Bellary, Karnataka last week know it better.
Kerala athletes Joby Mathew, Neeraj George Baby, Renjith K.R. and Baiju C.S. shone in the Games hunting three golds, four silvers and a bronze.
Says arm-wrestling champion Joby, “Unlike normal athletes, we are not carried on shoulders or given rosy receptions but, we never shy away from opportunities. For us, it is a fight for equality.”
Neeraj, who recently shifted to Bengaluru as an IT recruiter, has braved the odds of disability to emerge as a champion athlete. He won gold in badminton doubles and took silver in 100 M race.
For Baiju and Renjith, the race to the Para-National was a journey inspired by Joby’s efforts to uplift the morale of disabled sportspersons in Kerala.
“I’m a debutant in the National Games it took me a while to realise that anything is possible. Joby chettan has been a motivational force and I feel a lot confident now,” says Renjith, a resident of Thrissur, who won silver in swimming.
Baiju, who comes from Kodungallur, won silver in badminton singles and bronze in doubles. He was also the south zone champion in the event.
Meanwhile, though the State’s athletes made a glorious run at the nationals, they also stood witness to an appalling difference in the recognition given to their competitors from other states.
“At the nationals, you realise the difference in attitude of other states’ towards differently abled athletes. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and other states provide well for their athletes, unlike in our case,” points out Joby.
“From time to time we have been winning laurels at almost every level of sports but that has not won us the recognition from the governments. It is simply the deprivation of our rights,” he added.
But, these sportsmen believe that there is always hope. “We have a new government and a young and progressive minister. We expect our achievements will catch their attention at least this time,” says Joby.
In between, like true sportsmen, Joby and friends are saddened by the doping scandal that has rocked our athletics and they stated that we need to care for our athletes first.
“If we are to criticise, it has to be the authorities who have failed to educate the athletes. In my entire career, I have not taken even a sachet of protein powder. Still, I am strict about my diet, of which I hold high awareness,” Joby says.
“Most of our athletes are innocent and all they know is to blindly trust the coaches. Despite that, if they are blamed for the debacle, it is a sad thing,” he added.