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At 11, an accident left her with spinal cord disability. On August 30, Avani Lekhara became the 1st Indian woman to win gold at the Tokyo Paralympics!
Avani Lekhara won in Air Rifle competition and created a new world record. She finished seventh in the qualifiers with a score of 621.7 but she fought back and had a stunning recovery creating a World Record equalling a total of 249.6 which is also a new Paralympic record.
She won India’s fourth gold medal after Murlikant Petkar for swimming in 1972, Devendra Jhajharia for javelin throw in 2004 and 2016 and Mariyappan Thangavelu for high jump in 2016. However she is the first woman to have won an individual gold medal. Appearing in her maiden Paralympics, Avani ranks fifth in the world now.
Avani sustained spinal cord injuries after a car accident in 2012 when she was barely 11 years old. Her grandfather said in a recent interview that she felt hopeless and dejected after the accident.
At the time she was paralyzed waist down, studies seemed to be the only option but her family supported her and got her a book on Abhinav Bindra’s -‘A shot at history’.
Her family encouraged her to try her hand at various sports including archery but she was inclined towards shooting as she considered Abhinav Bindra her idol.
She took up shooting as a hobby in 2015 after her father took her to a shooting range one summer vacation. Her parents encouraged her and motivated her. They got a house near the shooting range and they used to take her to practice everyday.
Her idol Abhinav Bindra was among the first to congratulate her on winning the historic gold medal.
“Gold it is! Brilliant display by @AvaniLekhara to win India its first Paralympic gold medal in shooting. Immensely proud ! Many Congratulations on your shot at history,” Bindra wrote in a social media post.
Anand Mahindra, Chairman of the Mahindra Group, has dedicated the first customised sport utility vehicle(SUV) for people with disabilities to shooter Avani Lekhara.
Her coach Sima Shirur tweeted after her win,” Couldn’t be any more proud! Surely more to come from her in the future too.”
Speaking about her training, Shirur said, “The range at the Lakshya Shooting Club is on the first floor but we made sure that she had no difficulty in coming and going. All the shooters of the club gelled with her so much that she was carried up the stairs in her wheelchair every day by her shooting colleagues.”
“She is the darling of the club with her enchanting smile and demeanour. The women’s restroom at the club was remodelled to include para-friendly features overnight before Avani’s arrival on the first day.”
“We have been preparing Avani for the last couple of years with skill and technical aspects. But in Paralympics, it is how well you can manage your emotions, how well you perform technically under pressure.”
“The restrictions imposed during COVID made things difficult but did not deter her from chasing her goals. Avani kept on training at home and was in regular touch with me through Zoom call sessions and long phone calls”
Speaking to the media shortly after winning the final on Monday at the Asaka Shooting Range, Avani Lekhara said ,”I can’t describe this feeling, I feel on top of the world. It’s unexplainable!”
“Every athlete dreams of winning a medal. For the last 5 years, I was working towards representing India at the Paralympics, waiting for this moment.”
“I was just saying one thing, that I have to take one shot at a time. There’s nothing else that matters . Just take one shot at a time and just finish it.”
“As someone with a spinal cord disability, I don’t have any feeling below my waist. I still need to exercise my legs every day. I used to have a physiotherapist who would come to my home daily to help me exercise and stretch my legs. Since the covid pandemic affected my routine, my parents were the ones who helped me with those exercises. They do the best they can.”
“I just think that I have to follow the process. Beyond that, I try not to think about the score or the medal tally,”
“This medal is not mine, it’s for the entire country. I want to dedicate this medal to the entire country.”
Avani has inspired and motivated so many people who lose hope because of their different physical attributes or limitations.
Her win has sent a strong message – We all go through tragedies, you might feel low, you might want to give up but never settle for less. Never settle for a mediocre life, fight for yourself, for your dreams and for your rights. We may be different from the outside but inside we are all the same.
You have every the right to live your life as any other person and every right to demand for equal opportunities and representation in society. Chase your dreams and never take no for an answer!
The Paralympics is an international multi-sport event for athletes with a range of disabilities. They usually take place every four years almost immediately after the Olympics.
The Paralympic Games first took place in Rome in 1960 featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries. It was initially open only to athletes in wheelchairs. Later in the 1976 Summer Paralympic Games, athletes with other disabilities were also included.
The athletes who participate have a range of disabilities including impaired muscle power, hypertonia, ataxia, vision impairment, intellectual impairment, etc.
Paralympians want equal treatment but there is a huge gap in funding for Paralympic games compared to Olympic Games.
People think of medallists and achievers as role models but how many of us imagine or envision that person in your mind on a wheelchair/crutch or someone who is unable to see or hear. A person who doesn’t function the way we do can’t be our role model right ?
When we say or talk about normal, we don’t consider people who have disabilities because how can a person on a wheel chair be a role model for a child. Everyone wants to teach their kids about sportsmen and individuals who are able bodied people. While I don’t dismiss their achievements, wouldn’t it be nice to teach our kids a lot more about achievers like Avani and others.
Let us see past the metal and wheels, the hearing aids and the crutches. High time we teach our children about inclusion and teach them to treat people equally. Role models and achievers can come in wheel chairs as well !! Accept them as they are and not for what they might have been.
There is a saying by Robert M. Hensel,” There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more.”
Avani’s invincible spirit, hard work and dedication was the reason for her rise to greatness. Well it is time we write about a young woman named Avani Lekhara who created history and made herself and her country proud!!
We are all so proud of you !! May you fly higher and achieve more laurels!
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