The life of a para athlete is not easy.
Singhraj Adhana, who won bronze in P1 men’s 10m air pistol SH1 event at the Tokyo Paralympics on Tuesday, says this matter of fact when asked about his journey.
The 39-year-old from Haryana doesn’t see his sporting story to be just about his impairment or the struggle, but the hard work he has put in to compete at the Paralympics after picking up the sport at 35. He is more forthcoming when talking about the shooting range he designed and built at home to train during the pandemic than recounting his journey and how he needed a walking stick in his early life after contracting polio as a child.
“Seedhi si baat hain, para athletes ki life toh tough hoti hain (It is pretty simple, para athletes have a tough life),” Adhana said in a media interaction organised by the Paralympic Committee of India and Eurosport India, who are the official broadcasters.
“I got polio when I was one, there were no polio drops in the village. But my parents and grandmother didn’t give up. I used to walk with a stick and my mother would always say you have to have trust in yourself to walk on your feet. By the grace of God, I left the walking stick when I was about 14-15 years old. Vishwas ki jeet thi,” he added.
“I am probably the luckiest student in India who was always surrounded by good people. I have three coaches to motivate me and my family has always supported me,” he later added.
Belief and luck are important keywords and he showed that in his performance at Tokyo. He was sixth in qualifying for the eight-shooter final while teen shooter Manish Narwal topped. He started strong in the final and was placed second at the end of the first Competition Stage This meant that going into the Elimination stage, he was in line for a good finish.
But a stray 8.7 on his 16th shot and after two 9s in the previous series made for some nervous moments. By the business end, there were only three Chinese shooters and Adhana left in the field and a medal was a matter of one shot.
Adhana dropped out of contention with his poor 19th shot, a 9.1, while Chinese shooter Xiaolong Lou shot a 10.4. But the Indian bounced back with his 20th attempt, while his opponent stumbled. In an elimination battle, he shot 9.6 with that shot while Lou shot 8.6 to go out.
What was going through his mind at such a time?
“When we were just four left, me and the three Chinese shooters, I told myself that I can’t afford a bad shot now. My coaches have taught me – one shot, repeat, perfect shot. My coach says remember the thing that makes you happy and take the shot. I picked a shot, kissed the gun, told myself this would be a perfect shot, and I was back on the third spot,” Adhana recounted.
“My dream of gold is incomplete but I am happy,” he added.
A chance encounter that made him a shooter at 35
Adhana’s three coaches are Omprakash, JP Nautiyal and national coach Subhash Rana. It was Omprakash who first spotted his talent, in what was a serendipitous encounter.
“I used to accompany my two children and nephew to a sports complex and thought my time is just being wasted sitting there,” said Adhana. “My kids told me to try swimming with them but I was too ashamed to undress to try it. When I finally tried it, it felt too dangerous.
“My nephew Gaurav then told me to try shooting with him. When the coach there was teaching his students, he caught me laughing. I explained that this doesn’t look difficult so he asked me to give it a try and I hit 4 bullseyes in 5 shots,” Adhana said with a laugh.
The coach then encouraged him to try it competitively.
“That was the first time I picked a pistol and then I learned about para shooting. I have always wanted to serve the country and thought this was a good way to represent India,” he added.
His achievements at the national level shooting competitions in his year surprised everyone and gave hope to his coaches that he could be the next star in Indian shooting. In 2018, Adhana made the cut for the 2018 Para Asian Games and won a bronze medal. In that same year, he earned his first international medal by winning a silver in individual and gold in team event at the Chateauroux World Cup held in France.
World Rank 4th in P4 Mixed 50m Pistol SH1 (P4) and 5th in P1 Men’s 10m Air Pistol event
Gold medal in P4Team and Silver in P4 Individual events in Chateauroux World Cup 2018
Bronze medal in P4 of Para Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta
Gold medal in P1 team event and a Silver medal in P4 individual event at Al Ain World Cup 2019
2 Gold in P1, P4 team events and 2 Bronzes in P4 individual and P6 Team events in Osijek World Cup 2019
Bronze medal in P4 tearn event in Sydney World Championship 2019
Gold medal in P1, Silver in P4 team event and Bronze in P4 individual event in Al Ain World Cup 2021
But in 2020, it all came to a standstill due to the lockdown and that’s when he decided to build his own range, for both 10m and 50m.
“I was unable to sleep at night thinking about how I would train during the lockdown. A coach suggested I build my own range and I stayed up at night, drew up plans and saw that it can be done. First, my family was worried about the cost, but I said I can’t sleep without training. I was stubborn so my family gave in but said don’t spend so much that we go hungry in the future given the financial situation during the lockdown.
“My coaches, Rajiv Bhatia from NRAI and Nautiyal and Deepa Malik from PCI helped me out. My coaches told me that if at all we are building a range then it has to be of international level as it would then help me for not just Tokyo but also Paris Games. Together, we were able to build a range and here I am today.”
The fact that the 39-year-old has already set his sighters on Paris says it all. The Tokyo bronze is but the start of Adhana’s career.
(With inputs from Sports Authority of India and Paralympic Committee of India)
Correction: The headline originally spelled his name as Singhraj Adana, it has been corrected to Singhraj Adhana.