Indian athletes created history on Saturday when Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Singh Bhati won the gold and bronze medal respectively in the men’s high jump T-42 event at the Rio Paralympics.
Thangavelu became India’s first gold medallist at the Rio Paralympics with a jump of 1.89m and Bhati followed that performance up with a jump of 1.86m to cap off a brilliant day for the Indians in athletics at the Paralympics.
Thangavelu’s journey went from a victim at five years of age to a gold medal winner at 20, is heartwarming.
At five years of age, Thangavelu was disabled when a bus swerved and crushed his right leg below the knee.
“I was told the driver was inebriated. It doesn’t matter. My right leg is now stunted — it is still a five-year-old’s leg; it has never grown or healed,” Thangavelu had told The Hindu in an exclusive interview.
His mother, who now sells vegetables to make a living, took out a loan of Rs 3 lakh for his medical treatment. “We’re still paying it off,” she was quoted as saying by The Hindu.
But soon the volleyball-loving Thangavelu started listening to the calls of his PT teacher and took part in high jump competitions. In his first event ever, he secured second place against able bodied athletes.
In March this year, Thangavelu went onto make a jump of 1.78m and easily qualified for the Rio Paralympics after besting the qualification mark of 1.60m at the men’s T-42 high jump event in Tunisia. It was at that moment that Thangavelu’s confidence soared and he dared to dream that a gold medal wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
And now, that dream is a reality as India gets its third gold medal at the Paralympics.
Varun Singh Bhati
Varun Singh Bhati, India’s bronze medal-winning Paralympian in the T-42 high jump event, was dealt a cruel blow as a child when Polio struck. He suffered from Poliomyelitis, a disability that deforms one leg of the human body. But that didn’t stop him.
The 21-year-old Bhati was actually touted to be the prime medal hope for India in the high jump event. This was mainly because of his gold medal effort of 1.82m in Doha at the 2016 IPC Athletics Asia-Oceania Championship. He also broke the Asian record with that particular jump, and added to his gold medal won at the 2014 China Open Athletics Championship, according to a report by Indiatimes.com
A student of St Joseph’s School, Greater Noida, Bhati is studying B Sc Math (Hons) according to his official Facebook page. He has successfully managed to juggle academics with his sport, as his Paralympic medal shows.
Bhati is currently funded by the GoSportVoices organisation through the Para champions program.