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My Khel Ratna award is a beacon of hope for Indian para-athletes, says Deepa Malik

Sayan Mukherjee

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Deepa Malik was conferred with the Padmashri award in 2017.

New Delhi: Personal recognition it might be, but Deepa Malik insists the underlying message of her Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award shouldn’t be lost on anyone. current sports news

Winning awards is nothing new though, her cupboard is already brimming with them, including the Arjuna and Padmashri, and medals (over 50 national and around 23 international). current sports news

The first Indian woman to win a medal at the Paralympics, the only woman from the country to win medals in three successive Asian Para Games (2010, 2014, 2018), all these achievements have ensured a steady flow of accolades over the years. So why does this Khel Ratna award bear so much significance for Malik? current sports news

“Because this award cannot be won on pity, sympathy or concessions or resolutions for disabilities,” Malik told Sports Lounge exclusively over the phone. current sports news

“My award restores faith in the concept of women empowerment. I am happy this is an award that has come totally on merit. My dream of getting recognition despite my disabilities has come true.”

Often devoid of limelight and all its ensuing perks, life of differently-abled athletes is distinctly different, and all the more onerous, from other sportspersons. But that they are equally talented and laborious could be gauged from Malik’s tall achievements.

The shot putter hopes her award ensures that differently-abled sports don’t suffer from intimidation at the arduousness of their task.

“If a 49-year-old woman with total paralysis below her chest can become a Khel Ratna recipient, it is a huge message and an inspiration and hope for all para-athletes. It’s the perfect time for anybody to feel motivated,” she said.

Malik’s optimism is not based only on her belief, she points to India’s four-medal (2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze) haul at the Rio Paralympics and 26 medals (8 gold, 9 silver, 9 bronze) at the 2019 Asian Youth Athletics Championships (only behind China, 31 medals – 12, 11, 8) as proof of the country’s development.

The medals count could only go upwards from here, to “atleast 10-12 medals” at the 2020 Summer Paralympics, to be held from August 25 to September 6 in Tokyo, Japan, the Sonepat-born Malik predicted.

“The standards of Paralympics sports are as good as able-bodied sports, far improved from when I joined 14-15 years ago. Now we have to be prepared to work even harder,” the 2016 Rio Paralympics silver medallist remarked.

Improved standards have helped para-athletes gain visibility, leading to infrastructural developments, not only in India but all over the world. Malik is glad this spotlight is not gender specific.

“As awareness has increased so has the competition. The growth in India is synonymous with the growth of para sports internationally.

“Women athletes have come into the spotlight. They have won medals in disciplines where we have never won, sprinters, gymnasts in particular. Rio 2016 Olympics is a big testimony that women athletes could also put the country on the global map.”

Being the elder statesman among the country’s para-athletes makes her glad, offsetting her absence from India’s campaign at the Tokyo Games next year as her pet event is not included in the disability category (F-53).

“Well it is not by choice, but by design. I have to wait for my pet event to be included in the Olympics since I can’t change my disability category,” the 2012 Arjuna award recipient said. current sports news

“I will put forward this issue in the athlete council meet of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in November.” current sports news

Absence from the Games isn’t a deterrent, neither has it arose thoughts of retirement. She is inclined to keep herself fit and motivated with an eye on the 2021 World Championships and 2022 Commonwealth Games, even when away from para-sports.

“I will prepare accordingly, depending on my condition and age. I am not announcing my retirement as of now. Currently I am focussed on improving my personal record in sea swimming. This has nothing to do with para sports. I plan to keep myself fit and motivated, by setting new targets and yardsticks,” resolve evident in her voice.

Her target though isn’t only personal anymore. Being part of the Paralympic Committee of India’s athletes’ council, she is the voice for the athletes, aggressively working to promote grassroots disability awareness through her foundation “Wheeling Happiness”.

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