Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Cameraperson: Sumit Badola
Visually-impaired Indian para-athlete Avnil Kumar had finished fourth in the 100- and 200-metre race. But the losses didn’t stop him. He gave his everything to bag a bronze in the men’s 400 metre race at the Para Asian Games in Jakarta last month.
“I was very happy that I had at least won one medal because before this, I had never won a medal in any big tournament,” the 25-year-old para-athlete said, adding that despite his preparations, his failure to win the 100m and 200m races took a toll on him during the 400m event.
The final race was dramatic for other reasons too. Kumar’s final standing was not clear even after the race got over.
“During my 400m event, I was mentally not at the right place. I had no clue when the race started. And in the end, I had to be carried off in a stretcher since I lost consciousness for 15-20 minutes. I needed medical attention after which I regained consciousness and it was then I realised that I had won a bronze medal.”Avnil Kumar
Kumar’s coach, Satyapal Singh, explained the post-race hiatus. “After the race got over, according to the display board Avnil had won a silver. But when the final result arrived, we were told that he has finished third and had won bronze because both the contestants had the same time,” Singh said.
“There was a confusion regarding who won silver and who won bronze. The result was eventually decided in a mini-micro second. But it was a good result to motivate him.”Satyapal Singh, Avnil Kumar’s Coach
Kumar said his parents, family and friends are a constant source of inspiration. He said that after winning the medal, he first called his parents in Himachal Pradesh. “After the race, I only called my parents. My coach was the first person to tell me about my medal. I was lying on a stretcher when I was informed about my medal. After that I talked with my parents and sister. They were very happy and so was I,” he said.
Kumar, who has been involved in sports since he was in high school, started preparing for the 400m race just one-and-a-half year back.
“Earlier, I used to train only for long jumps, 100m and 200m. There was not much scope in long jump, neither in 100m and 200m. After that my coach asked me to prepare for 400m, so I started preparing for it and here I am now with a medal in that category.”Avnil Kumar
Kumar has been partially blind since birth. It was only in 2011 that he started training with Singh. He had first met Satyapal Singh during a training camp in New Delhi ahead of the World Youth Championship.
“That time I was in the eleventh standard and I couldn’t always come to Delhi for practice. I used to only attend the camps. One year later, I arrived in Delhi for my graduation and then I again started training with him (Satyapal Singh),” Kumar said.
Kumar is now employed with a central government agency in Delhi and has a job that gives him less time to train. He usually trains in the morning because the ground is crowded in the evening. “Whenever I come to train during evening it is so crowded that I collide with people. So, I tend to avoid training in the evening,” the para-athlete explained.
Singh also makes sure that the para-athlete never misses his practice session.
“Avnil needs a lot of motivation. Since last two years he has doing a government job. It is very difficult to balance morning training with a 10-5 job and then again train in the evening. It has been quite a struggle to bring him to this level.”Satyapal Singh, Coach
In a career spanning 14 years, Singh has been working with para-athletes since 2007.
“In India, the infrastructure for blind para-athletes is not up to the mark. Even after making it to the stadium, a completely blind athlete would also need a guide. A partially-blind athlete also needs a partner because if I ask him or her to run alone, it will be difficult. He/she needs a training partner. That’s why it is very challenging,” Singh said.
What’s Next for Avnil Kumar?
A big fan of Usain Bolt, Kumar has tried others sports. He has played national-level blind cricket, performed well in kabaddi, football and even chess.
He said he is now preparing for the IPC World Championship in Dubai next year and the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020.
It was after the Indian para-athletes’ performance in the 2016 Rio Paralympics that the the government has finally started taking interest. Still, the challenges remain.
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