Editor’s note: This article was originally published when Avani Lekhara won the gold medal in her first event. On Friday, she clinched a second medal to become the first Indian woman to achieve the feat at Paralympic Games.
Avani Lekhara, who was confined to a wheelchair after an accident when she was barely 11 years old in 2012, was inspired to take up shooting after reading Abhinav Bindra’s autobiography where he detailed his journey to being an Olympic champion. She took up shooting in 2015 as a hobby after her father took her to a range during one summer vacation.
And in 2021, she matched Bindra’s iconic Beijing 2008 moment when she won India’s first ever medal in shooting at the Paralympics. It was the second time that India’s national anthem has played at a shooting medal ceremony at the Olympics or Paralympics.
The 19-year-old also created history in her debut campaign by becoming the first Indian woman ever to win a gold medal at the Paralympics, finishing on top in R2 women’s 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 on Monday at the Asaka Shooting Range. She led the field from the beginning of the final, finishing with a total of 249.6 points, equalling the world record.
And on Friday, she built on her already impressive campaign by winning the bronze medal as she held her nerve to win her second medal at the Tokyo Paralympics, this time in the women’s 50m rifle 3 positions SH1 in a thrilling finale.
She is the first Indian woman to win two Paralympic medals.
Heading into the Tokyo Games, the teen was one of the top medal prospects for India. She has grown from strength to strength since winning her first state medal using a rifle borrowed from her coach.
Date of Birth: 8 November 2001
Event: R2 Women’s 10m Air Rifle SH1, R3 Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH1, R6 Mixed 50m Rifle Prone SH1 and R8 Women’s 50m 3Positions
Training base: JDA Shooting Range Jaipur & Home Range
Personal coach: Suma Shirur
National coach: Subhash Rana
The Jaipur resident took part in her first National Shooting Championship in 2015 and won gold for Rajasthan. She followed that up with more medals in 2016. In 2017, she won the silver medal at the IPC Para Shooting World Cup in Dubai in 2017. She qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics with a quota in February.
The teenager says she feels a special connection to the rifle and is a believer in the process, which has helped her find success in the mentally intense sport of shooting. “It seems very homely when I lift a rifle. I feel a connection towards it. When you have to focus and the consistency, that’s what I like about shooting,” she said after her gold.
After qualifying in the seventh position, needing a strong finish after a slow start, she stayed consistently solid in the final as the score suggests.
“I was just saying one thing, that I have to take one shot at a time. There’s nothing else that matters now, just take one shot at a time and just finish it. I just think that I have to follow the process. Beyond that, I try not to think about the score or the medal tally,” she said.
At Tokyo, she will be also in action in the R3 Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH1 event, the R8 Women’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions SH1 as well as the R6 Mixed 50m Air Rifle prone SH1 event.
Lekhara’s international achievements include a silver with a Junior World Record in R2 at the WSPS World Cup 2017, bronze at the WSPS World Cup Bangkok 2017, silver in the WSPS World Cup in Osijek, Croatia 2019 and more recently a silver in the WSPS World Cup Al-Ain 2021. She broke the junior world record in 50m Rifle 3 Positions SH1 finals at the 2019 WSPS Championships, Australia.
Achievements at a glance
World Rank 5 in R2 and 6 in R8
Silver medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup Al Ain in 2021
Silver medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup in Osijek in 2019
Silver medal with Junior World Record in R2 at the WSPS World Cup AlAin in 2017
Bronze medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup Bangkok in 2017
Gold medals in the 10m Rifle, Prone and 3P events at the World Shooting Para Sport World Cup, Dubai in 2018
3 Gold medals and a Bronze medal in the 63rd National Shooting Championships, Bhopal in 2019
3 Gold medals and one Silver medal in the XIX Kumar Surendra Singh Memorial Shooting Championship, New Delhi in 2019
Apart from shooting, the teen is pursuing a five-year degree course in law from the University of Rajasthan. She completed her schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya in Jaipur and was among the toppers of her school.
Since 2017, the central government has supported Lekhara by including her in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme and funding her training through the Annual Calendar for Training and Competition.
With Inputs from Sports Authority of India and Go Sports Foundation