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As the country sends off its largest-ever contingent to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and hopes for its best-ever performance, let us take a look at 10 young para-athletes to keep an eye on across multiple events as they look to impress in Japan.
After a fascinating Olympic Games, the fever of the event shows no signs of slowing down as the Paralympics are set to begin in Tokyo.
The Indian team for the Paralympics will feature 54 athletes competing across 9 sports for a shot at history.
After a 12-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, Team India is made up by a combination of savvy experience and exciting youth as the team looks to improve upon their incredible showing at Rio 2016, where they won two gold, one silver and one bronze medal.
There are a lot of young Indians getting ready to make their mark in this year’s global multi-para sport event in Japan. These athletes are breaking down barriers in their sports and in their communities with each having a distinct story to tell – stories of grit, determination, and championing against all odds. Individually and collectively, they represent the potential of young India.
Here are some of the names you should keep an eye out for:
Sport: Badminton women’s singles (SU5) and mixed doubles (SL3-SU5)
The 18-year-old has become the youngest para-badminton player in the world to qualify for the Game.
Hailing from Jalandhar, Palak Kohli only started playing badminton two years ago, has broken the social barrier and defy the odds to become champion in the sport of her choice.
Winning 3 national titles in the Girls Singles Under-19 category, Women's Singles and Women's Doubles and 2nd Runners up in Mixed doubles; and 4 International medals including Gold Medal in Women's Doubles and Silver Medal in Women's Singles at Uganda Para-Badminton International Tournament 2019; Bronze medal at Japan Para-Badminton International Tournament, which was the Paralympics Tokyo 2020 Test Event and a Silver Medal at the Peru Para-Badminton International Tournament is something to behold.
Kohli and her partner Parul Parmar are the first Indian para shuttlers to qualify for Tokyo Paralympics; in the SL3-SU5 women’s doubles event that is debuting at the games this year.
Sport: Women’s club throw (F51)
A Club Throw phenom, Kashish Lakra, a class 12th student from Modern Public School, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi, has become India’s youngest athlete to qualify for the Paralympics in the Women's Club Throw F51 category.
Kashish Lakra wasn't born with a disability. A sports lover since childhood, she tried her hands at various sports like skating, badminton, shot put, speed ball, badminton, before deciding to pursue a career in wrestling.
Within few months, she played at the national level and she even qualified for Khelo India Games in 2017, but all things came crashing down when she slipped and injured her spinal cord.
Doctors told her parents that she won’t survive more than 48 hours, and if by chance she did, she would be bedridden for life. Gradually, she improved with timely medication and yoga. But instead of giving up on sports, she has thrown herself into them, and it started paying off soon, as she won gold at Junior World Championship in Nottwil Switzerland, and fifth place in the senior world championship, Dubai, in 2019. And today, she is the youngest Indian athlete to qualify for the Paralympics in the Women's Club Throw F51 category.
Club throw is an athletic throwing event where the objective is to throw a wooden club. The event is one of the four throwing events, along with discus, javelin and shot put of the Summer Paralympics.
Sport: Men’s High Jump (T46)
Up-and-coming high jumper Nishad Kumar has demonstrated that he means serious business this year, and his opponents will be wise to take heed when the men’s high jump (T46) takes off in Tokyo.
Having already clinched the gold medal in high jump (T46) by clearing 2.06m at the 12th Fazza Championships World Para Athletics Grand Prix 2021 in Dubai. The impressive performance also helped him vault to world number 2 ranking and it is inevitable that 17-year -old is destined for great things.
Sport: Women’s 100m (T13)
There's a lot 22-year-old Simran Sharma likes about being a champion para-sprinter: winning medals, beating out her rivals, representing her home country.
Born with semi-developed ears and doctors had given up on Simran Sharma and kept her in the incubator but 22 years later Simran Sharma became the first Indian woman to qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics in 100m track event.
The Delhi-native gives credit to her husband-cum-coach Naik Gajendra Singh, who is also an officer in the Indian Army and supported her wife as he sold a plot, took loans from the bank to fund Sharma’s training, as per reports.
She is also the recipient of female Para Athlete of the Year awards at the event. She has also won gold in World Para Athletics Grand Prix, 2019 & 2021 and silver in 400m World Para Athletics Prix, 2021.
With guidance & support from her husband/coach, Naik Gajendra Singh, she has paved the path for aspiring women athletes and is closer to her dream of bringing glory to the nation. Simran has shown he possesses plenty of talent and will be determined to repeat the same exploits when she takes on the world once again in Tokyo.
Sport: Men’s High Jump (T64)
Despite being 17 years old, the Jewar, Uttar Pradesh, native is a force to be reckoned with in the high jump circuit.
Para high jumper Praveen Kumar was one amongst the record 22 Para athletes who had qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Praveen's gold medal-winning effort was one of the high points for India earlier this year at the 12th Fazza International World Para Athletics Grand Prix. His 2.05m jump was enough to set a new Asian record and fetch him the gold in men's high jump F42/44/64 event.
He is just 17, and his chances of winning a gold medal are high. At Junior World Para Athletics Championships, he secured a bronze over the same height and is primed to explode at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Sport:Men’s javelin throw (F64)
Everyone aspires to be the next best thing. Very few athletes actually live up to the hype and expectation, though. 22-year-old para javelin thrower is another youngster eager to prove his worth in Tokyo Paralympics.
Hailing from Sonipat, Haryana, Sumit, who was on course to make a career out of wrestling given that he grew up competing in the famous akhadas of Sonipat. However, fate had other ideas as he lost his leg in a bike accident in 2015 when he was returning home from a class when a tractor rammed his bike. Sumit woke up to the news that he would have a prosthetic leg fitted.
But that hasn't stopped him from becoming a Para-athlete and competing against able-bodied athletes. The videos of former South African sprinter Oscar Pistorious inspired him to breathe new life into compete in para-sports with the javelin throw being on top of the list.
Earlier this year, Sumit broke his own javelin throw world record in the F44 category with an effort of 66.90m to claim the gold at the National Para Athletics Championship. However, that measured 66.90m didn’t considered as a record as the Nationals are not certified by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
The 22-year-old has won silver at the 2019 world Championships and also competed with Neeraj Chopra in the Indian Grand Prix held earlier this year where he threw 66.43m.
Sport: Men’s 10m air pistol (P1) and men’s 50m pistol (P4)
The current scenario of Indian shooting seems to have a never-ending pipeline of young talent. Men’s 10 m air pistol world No.4 shooter Manish Narwal is arguably the top medal prospect.
Born with a deformity in the right hand, Manish was otherwise like any other child, just that his condition made him a quiet student at school.
Lover of the beautiful game of football, but due to impairment, he couldn't play the game beyond the local club level. Manish originally started shooting in 2016, but soon found himself crushing the sport.
The 19-year-old Narwal is spearheading the new generation of Indian para-shooters as he made in history earlier this year shattering the world record to clinch a gold medal in the P4 mixed 50m pistol SH1 event at the 2021 Para Shooting World Cup. And in Tokyo, he is going to harness every ounce of power and patience for the chance to stand atop that platform.
Sport: Shooting, women’s 10m air pistol (P2)
Rubina Francis’s accomplishments are many. Having started shooting at a very young age, the Jabalpur native rose to prominence when she qualified for the Asian Para Games in 2018. The youngster is one of India's most decorated Para-shooters, with a total of 15 international medals in her kitty.
Rubina, who was born with a disability in her leg, took up the sport professionally in 2015 when she was 16 years old and owes her credit to Olympic medalist shooter Gagan Narang and his academy 'Gun For Glory'.
Although her career was filled up with a lot of up and down and had many U-turns too which Rubina did not take, but she always remained true to herself and all started paying dividends.
Rubina secured a shooting quota for India in Tokyo Paralympics 2020 by winning the gold medal in the 10m air pistol event at the World shooting Para Sport Cup in Peru. She is the first female pistol shooter to qualify for the Paralympics and her goals set on reaching the medal stand in Tokyo.
Sport: Women’s 10m air rifle standing (R2), 10m air rifle prone mixed (R3), 50m rifle prone mixed (R6) and 50m rifle 3-P (R8)
"Life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those cards you hold well,” reads Avani Lekhara’s Twitter bio.
A 19-year-old champion shooter from Jaipur, Lekhara carries India’s bid for a Paralympic gold, along with her bullets, in her arsenal.
Avani Lekhara suffered a horrific car accident in 2012, which caused severe injuries to her spinal cord. She has been bound to a wheelchair since the accident.
Lekhara's life changed after she read Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra's autobiography, 'A Shot At History', which inspired her to take up shooting. In her very first Rajasthan state championship in 2015, Lekhara won a bronze and announced herself in style to the para-shooting world.
Since then, Lekhara has consistently been at the top in India and also has been making waves at the international level. Earlier this year at the Para Shooting World Cup, she demonstrated form and confidence by clinching a silver medal with a 248.7. World No 1 and Lekhara’s biggest competition, Iryna Shchetnik, beat her to the gold medal by a slender margin of 0.3. She will be hoping to have an exceptional outing in her debut campaign at the Paralympics and win India its first medal in para-shooting.
Sport: Taekwondo, women’s K44-49 kg
The post-pandemic world is looking bright for Aruna Tanwar.
The Bhiwani native from Haryana and current world No.4 in the women's U 49 category, Aruna became the first Indian Taekwondo athlete to take part in Tokyo Paralympic.
Aruna has been awarded a wild card entry based on her exemplary past performances, which will make her the first Indian to compete in the global multi-para sport event.
Aruna took the rejection (for having three fingers in each hand and arms not fully formed) by her stride, and switched over to the para category, where she is the current world number 4 in the women’s under-49 category.
A five-time national champion, Aruna has consistently attained a podium finish in the last four years at both Asian Para Taekwondo Championships and World Para Taekwondo Championships.
Born to a factory driver and part-time farmer Naresh Kumar in Haryana’s Bhiwani district, Aruna is among the eight athletes given a bipartite commission invitation for Tokyo by World Taekwondo and International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
Pursuing her physical education undergraduate course at Chandigarh University, Mohali, Aruna is eyeing for a podium finish in Tokyo to inspire girls to take up martial arts.