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On the road to Tokyo 2020, these paralympians battled Covid, lifted gas cylinders | Tokyo Olympics News – Times of India

July 25, 2021
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The pandemic has been challenging for all sportspersons but for India’s para athletes, it’s been even more of a real roller-coaster, from the event they had been training so hard for being postponed, to being stuck at home with hardly any equipment. Add to that the fear of Covid.
Ekta Bhyan, who is one of the 24 Indian athletes selected for the Tokyo Paralympics, knew she had to be careful because of a spinal cord injury sustained in 2003.
“My respiratory system is already impaired, so I had to be very careful,” says the athlete who has six international medals for club throw under her belt. For some, getting Covid and the slow recovery period wasn’t just a hypothetical fear, but a reality.
Dharambir, who has been selected for the club throw event, got Covid only two months before the trial for the Olympics.
“After Covid, my body was completely weak. I wasn’t able to get up and sit down. People were telling me I needed to rest, but after 10 days post-Covid, I started training again because I knew if the trials didn’t go well I wouldn’t get selected,” says Dharambir, who was left with a serious spinal injury after meeting with an accident in his early 20s.
If Dharambir battled Covid, Devendra Jhajharia, one of India’s most prominent para athletes and the first Indian to win two gold medals at the Paralympics, struggled to train without the javelin that’s almost like a body part for him, like his second arm.

“It was the longest time I have gone in my life without touching a javelin because I obviously couldn’t throw at home,” says the 40-year-old. “The second was that my coach told me that whatever happens, I can’t put on weight. Because at my age, gaining weight would really affect my performance.”
With only rudimentary equipment like theraband and exercise balls at home, Jhajharia got creative — the side of his car provided resistance as he exercised, while for weight training he relied on an LPG cylinder. Once the lockdown lifted and he was able to resume practice, things were looking up — that is, until October.
His father was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer with only some days to live.
“When I went home, he told me that he may not live but asked me not to disrupt my training and to go back to Gandhinagar where my coach was. I did and he passed away in a few weeks,” he says. Again, he went back home for 12 days for the necessary rituals but his mother insisted he leave soon, to work towards his father’s dream and win another gold medal.
A few months later, he gave an “unbelievable performance” at the trial, and plans on bringing home a medal, for the country and his family.
The support system of family has been an important tool for 22-year-old Simran Sharma, who is headed for her first Paralympics after being selected for the 100m race. While she focused on very clear goals — eat, sleep, and train — during the lockdown, her spouse picked up the housework slack.

“My husband did everything else — all the cooking and cleaning. He wanted me to concentrate only on my goal.”
Even when she got Covid and struggled with fatigue, he forced her to eat and get better.
“For a while, I really struggled — crying and falling from exhaustion and once I fainted during practice. But with training, I went to Dubai in February 2021 and won a gold medal there,” she says, pointing out that she’s been dealing with a serious leg injury.
An MRI after the trials revealed that she ran only on the strength of one foot to get her ticket to the Paralympics.
Javelin player Sandeep Chaudhary has spent the past year isolating in training camps in Delhi and Sonipat which had very strict Covid protocols.
“That way, I was able to do my six hours of practice daily,” he says.
The rules included weekly Covid tests and designated ‘zones’ to create safe bubbles for athletes. And it was all worth it — he broke his own world record at the trials, with a distance of 66.44m. But he admits that this time has been extra difficult.
“As para athletes, we have learnt to live with difficulties in normal times also. Hard situations make you strong, in my opinion.”
Ekta Bhyan, meanwhile, says that while she appreciates people being inspired by para athletes, she wishes there was as much focus on their achievements.
“Their hard work shouldn’t be sidelined in comparison to the hardships they have overcome.”





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