‘My Journey To Paralympics Began With A Homemade Wooden Spear’
Devendra Jhajharia, Silver medalist at Tokyo Paralympics javelin event, talks about his struggles and a dream that children will one day carry a javelin than a cricket bat
Neeraj Chopra displayed a fabulous performance at the Tokyo Olympics by winning the first Medal in the field and track events for India and that too a Gold. I am hoping that this will develop the sports culture in the country. In future, children who now mostly carry a cricket bat or ball to the stadium with a dream to play for India, may wield a Javelin on the ground.
India has displayed a fabulous performance in the field and track events. I would like to mention that we have some good talent in the junior category but we still have a long way to go, to research and develop on the sports side so that we can go ahead in this field and win more laurels for the country.
I was eight years old when my left hand accidentally came in contact with a high-power electric wire while climbing a tree in my village in Rajasthan. Doctors had to amputate the arm. It was traumatic for a young child. I was also burnt from many sides and had to stay in hospital for six months. When I was discharged, the doctor said this child will not be able to have a strong physical structure. Going back home with only one arm, I was demoralized. What I would do in a disabled life, I wondered!
The depression kept me inside the four walls of my house for a long time. I internalized the trauma. It was my mother who motivated me to go out and face the world. “Go play with kids outside, you are the same as before, nothing has happened with you,” she kept exhorting me. It worked, I came out of the shell. And it got better with time.
I studied in a government school. With few means to travel then, I daily walked 5 km up and down for my studies. It once struck me that a boy who could walk such a long distance cannot be weak, as the doctor had predicted. I was drawn to sports and wanted to play something to tone up my physique. But in my school we didn’t have badminton, tennis or basketball court; all we had was an ordinary track in which we could run or throw Shot Put, Discus or Javelin.
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I wanted to try Javelin throw but – and I clearly remember it – that I was not allowed to throw the javelin in school, due to my condition. This made me even more determined. I came back home, made a wooden spear, and started to train myself. No doubt the journey that began with a wooden spear to the Paralympic podium is dotted with struggle.
I started from zero… all I had was passion. I was wearing shoes worth ₹200 and Javelin spikes worth ₹200-250 when I won an Olympic medal in 2004. I feel good and immensely proud that I was the first Indian to win two gold medals in Paralympicsfor my country.
The government of today is very dedicated and sincere towards the para athletes, be it at the top schemes or national coaching camps. At present, I feel better. But I have seen a time when the state was oblivious and apathetic to para athletes. I started playing the game in that era.
To all the differently abled people, I want to say that motivate yourself. I know it is easier said than done. Most of us feel disappointed, dejected and demotivated, but I would say whatever field you chose, put in your best, work hard and follow good discipline and it won’t let you down.
I have been playing for the India team for the past 19 years, since 2002 when I won a medal at the international level and now it is 2021. And I carry the same patience and passion for Javelin.
As Told To Mamta Sharma