Special Sports

Special Olympics: Indian athletes inspire with 173 medals

These athletes have fought bravely against all odds - their's is a tale of hope and courage.

Here’s a nugget of information which should warm the cockles of your heart: the Indian contingent at the just-concluded Special Olympics held at Los Angeles this year, won a total of 173 medals, third only after the United States and China. Of course, the Special Olympics have never been about the medal tally – it’s a global platform for athletes who are "special" in their own ways. But it’s still an incredibly heartening fact that India, where attitudes towards the differently-abled are still mired in neglect, has produced such an impressive performance.

There have been plenty of tales of pluck and courage from the Olympics. Here are a few:

Ranveer Singh Saini bags India’s first gold in golf
Fourteen-year old Ranveer Singh Saini was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. Twelve years later, he has made history by becoming the first Indian at the 2015 Special Olympics to bag a gold, winning the GF Gold-Level 2 Alternate Shot Team Play event on July 31.

Saini’s is a tale of immense hard work and grit. To give credit where it’s due, the Indian Golf Union recognised Saini’s talent and left no stone unturned to ensure he was given proper training, roping in Anitya Chand, a renowned coach to train him. His proud father, Kartikeya Saini appreciated the help the IGU provided and confidently predicted that he was all set to “battle for the country”.

But it wasn’t always easy. As his coach Chand puts it, Saini has come a long way. “It wasn’t as easy as it sounds because the biggest challenge for me was to communicate with him. Soon he realised that he should listen to me and now he hits a 260-yard ball and can play with any normal golfer."

Athletes from Delhi’s Asha Kiran Home win seven medals
The Delhi government-run Asha Kiran Home has captured all the headlines after the Olympics and for all the right reasons. A home for the cerebrally-challenged, Asha Kiran had sent a ten-member contingent for the Special Olympics. That contingent is going to come back to Delhi with its head held high, having won as many as seven medals.

The most inspiring story among the medallists has to be of Phoolan Devi’s, who won gold in the power-lifting competition and three more bronze medals in other events. As a sixteen-year old, she was abandoned on Delhi’s streets, found by the police and moved to the Asha Kiran Home. As the Times of India reports, living conditions at Asha Kiran were not always the best – Devi shares her room with 42 other people, but has won more than 40 awards in different sports. It’s an extraordinary tale of grit and determination.

The other medals won by the contingent were a bronze each in the powerlifting and softball events.

Punjab labourer’s son wins three medals in cycling
Even a month before the Special Olympics started, Rajvir Singh, the son of a brick-loader from Siar in Ludhiana, didn’t have a proper cycle to train with. It was only when a businessman gifted him a new cycle that Rajvir could finally ditch his old, rusting machine.

A month later, Singh has vindicated the faith shown in him by winning two gold medals in two different cycling events. His entire village celebrated with his family as news of his exploits reached them. Balbir Singh, his father, was obviously emotional. He was reported as saying, “I would force him to practise and he would cry. I knew his mental health was not well but something had to be done to make him grow in life. I would make him run and in beginning his legs gave up after cycling a short distance but I did not give up. Gradually, he started enjoying cycling and my hope grew that he do something in life.”

Of course, there were many other heroes. The contingent from Goa was the most successful, winning more than 15 medals. Kushal Resam from Bicholim, was a real champion , winning two golds and a bronze in roller-skating.

But more than the successes with medals, every athlete’s participation in the Special Olympics is a celebration of sport. Coming from a country where sport for the differently-abled hardly gets any attention, each of these athletes has fought against massive odds to reach where they are now. Here’s an earnest request to those who are always quick to announce rewards for our victorious cricketers: can we see some well-deserved acknowledgement for India's special champions?

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