Devendra Jhajharia, Indian Paralympian, hit unparalleled heights for his country

Dileep Premachandran tips his cap to Devendra Jhajharia, who not only persevered through losing an arm to become an athlete, but also outlasted the Paralympics dropping his category for two cycles.
India's Devendra Jhajharia competes in the men's javelin throw F46 final of the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last week. Leo Correa / AP Photo / September 13, 2016
India's Devendra Jhajharia competes in the men's javelin throw F46 final of the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last week. Leo Correa / AP Photo / September 13, 2016

Devendra Jhajharia was eight years old, growing up in a village in Rajasthan, when he climbed up a tree and was electrocuted by a cable that had become trapped within its branches. Part of his left arm was amputated, and his one-time playmates mocked him when he tried to join in their games afterwards.

Earlier this week, nearly three decades after the accident that cost him a limb, Jhajharia’s six-year-old daughter called him while he was preparing for his event at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. She had topped her kindergarten exam. Now, she wanted him to win a gold medal.

He did so as well, with his third-round throw of 63.97m shattering the record (62.15) he had set in Athens 12 years earlier. In a parallel universe, Jhajharia might have been celebrating a fourth straight gold. Instead, at the age of 35, he had waited patiently for a second chance.

The F46 category that he competed him – for athletes with unilateral upper-limb impairment – wasn’t part of the Paralympic programme in Beijing (2008) or London (2012). As the years ticked by, Jhajharia could have rested on his laurels and retired. But he kept on training, and in Rio, he finally got his chance.

His preparation had involved several months in Finland, where one of those he befriended was Kenya’s Julius Yego, who learned to propel the javelin vast distances after studying YouTube videos. “He (Yego) would tell me his story of penury, of how he slept on a broken cot and how he learnt javelin throw by watching YouTube,” said Jhajharia in an interview with Press Trust of India. “It was quite an inspiration. If he can achieve after so much of hardships, why can’t I?”

Murlikant Petkar, the former soldier who won a freestyle swimming event at the Paralympics in 1972, was the pioneer in India, but by winning his second gold, Jhajharia has achieved what no Indian athlete, able-bodied or otherwise, has before.

Those coaches who once taunted Ripu Daman Singh, Jhajharia’s coach, by asking him whether he couldn’t find an athlete with two hands in all of Rajasthan must be feeling pretty foolish right now.

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Published: September 18, 2016 04:00 AM

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