It had only been a short while since Gagan Narang set up his Guns for Glory shooting academy in Hyderabad, that a resident nearby came to meet him and inquire if he would train her son. Narang agreed, but the lady remained silent.

“I asked her what’s the problem, why is she so quiet,” he told, recalling the meeting from over five years ago.

“She told me her son was born deaf and cannot communicate. This was something I didn’t expect, but I felt this was a new challenge for me. I felt that if the boy cannot hear, maybe his other senses would be heightened, so we could work and train around it.”

That was his first memory of Dhanush Srikanth.

On Wednesday evening, in Caxias do Sul, a hilly town in Southern Brazil, 19-year-old Srikanth shot a Finals World Record score (among deaf shooters) to win gold in the men’s 10m air rifle event at the 2021 Deaflympics.

It is the first major stride in an international event, and one that sets him up well for his senior World Cup debut in Baku, Azerbaijan, later in May.

Deaflympics 2021: India strike gold in shooting and badminton to open their medal tally

“He has worked very hard to get to this point in the sport. It’ll just give him the confidence to go further,” said Narang about the 2019 Asian Championship gold medallist.

Dhanush has been finding his feet in the sport over the past few years, but the start was by no means a smooth affair. Unable to hear and read, communication was a problem for Narang as he attempted to teach the youngster the fine art of shooting from scratch.

Sign language was one thing, Narang resorted to drawing sketches.

“We used to draw diagrams to try and get the messages across,” he said.

“Things like how to hold the gun, the technique, stance, what to aim at… Eventually we learnt how to communicate through sign language, and he had a cochlear implant that would help him hear to some degree.”

The implants and no other type of hearing aids are allowed in competition, but Narang was content with that since “it doesn’t really matter if you cannot hear when you’re shooting.”

Eventually though, the 2012 London Olympic bronze medallist pushed the teenager to learn how to read.

“We wanted him to be independent. If he’s going to be an international athlete, he will need to learn how to read so that at least he can travel alone if ever required. That’s important, and it’s something that he’s picked up quite well,” he added.

Explainer: India at Deaflympics – here’s what you need to know about the quadrennial event

Armed with their own brand of sign language, a mixture of diagrams and written messages that Dhanush would read to understand the coach’s instructions, the youngster started to improve. It helped them greatly once the Covid-19-forced lockdown was lifted, as Narang would work individually with Dhanush at the range to ease him back into the sport. And the one thing that Narang asserts he’s impressed with is Dhanush’s determination.

“He’s become so focused in training that it overcomes the impairment. He doesn’t like it if someone uses the word ‘deaf’ around him. He’s worked hard to achieve everything he has,” Narang said.

“And it’s an individual event, so you’re not needed to communicate during a match with teammates like you would need to in, say, football. It’s just you, the gun and the target, so it works.”

Gagan Narang with Dhanush Srikanth

Dhanush has come a long way from the boy who once struggled to communicate with his coach. Now he’s at home at the range and in practice. That’s where he also reveals his eye for mischief.

Sab ka nakal karta rehta hai (he’s always imitating people around him),” Narang said. “He’ll mimic me when I’m shooting. Bahut masti karta hai (he’s always up to mischief).”

On Wednesday though, he was dead focused on the manual targets placed in front of him at a distance of 10m. He along with compatriot Shourya Saini, who won bronze in the same event, were the first from the country to medal at this edition of the Deaflympics.

And Narang is certain that this is only the start.