Mumbai: Javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia became the first Indian to bag two gold medals at the Paralympics, breaking his own world record to clinch the top honours at the Rio Games with a throw of 63.97m, his six-year-old propelling him to do so.
Six-year-old daughter Jiya, who would accompany Jhajaria to training in Rajasthan, struck a deal with her father that if she topped in the lower kindergarten exam, he would have to win a gold in Paralympics and so did he.
“She proudly phoned me to announce that ‘I’ve topped, now it’s your turn’, something that kept on echoing in my ear when I entered the field at the Olympic Stadium,” Jhajaria, the only Indian to win two gold medals in Paralympics, told PTI from Rio after winning the men’s F46 javelin throw.
“She would be the happiest person. I will wait for her to wake up and speak to her,” he further added.
On one side his relations with his daughter strengthens, whereas at the other end, his two-year-old son Kavyan does not even recognise his father due to his rigourous practice schedule.
“He does not even know what a father is like. Only his mom tells him by showing my photo, that it’s papa. Hopefully I would be able to spend some time with them now.”
Devendra, who comes from a humble background, from the district of Churu, Rajasthan, won his previous gold in the 2004 Athens Games, bettered his own world record to finish on top in the men’s F46 event.
The F46 classification which denotes F for field events and the number 45-47 is for “upper limb(s) deficiency, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement”.
It was a long wait for the the 35-year-old, who did not feature in the previous two Paralympics since the event was missing from the Games program. In this interval he had intensive training to keep himself fit and strong.
Till then, Murlikant Petkar was the only Indian with an individual gold in Paralympics, while shooter Abhinav Bindra won an individual gold in Beijing Olympics four years later.
India now have two gold, one silver and one bronze in the ongoing edition of the Games. Thangavelu Mariyappan had earlier bagged gold in the men’s high jump, whereas Varun Bhati had secured a bronze in the same event. Deepa Malik went on to win a silver in the women’s shot put event to add to the tally.
Devendra couldn’t contain his ecstacy and spoke to his well wishers till 5am in Rio. “Ab kya sona, ab hamein kuchh nahin hoga. Hum to Rashtriya Dhwaj ke saath celebration karenge (I won’t get sleep anymore. I will celebrate with National Tricolour),” he humbly admitted.
Before Paralympics, he trained from April-July in Kuortane, Finland, where he became friends with Kenyan thrower Julius Yego, whom he calls one of his biggest motivators.
“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… It was quite an inspiration. If he can achieve after so much of hardships, why can’t I.”
“We would train for about seven hours. He would tell me I would surely win a gold in Rio. He went on to win a silver. I will speak to him soon as he has been a strong force behind my success,” Devendra happily expressed.
In his mentions he didn’t forget to thank his mentors at the grassroot level, his mother Jivani Devi and wife Manju, a former national level kabaddi player, played a big role in his success.
“Since my childhood days, my mother kept me focused and told me you concentrate on your sport rest ‘we will look after’. She would not even phone me thinking that I would get disturbed all these days. She has so far kept on fulfilling my need but never took anything in return.”
“My wife on the other hand left kabaddi so that she can take care of the family as I mostly stayed away. My father ensured that I get the farm fresh lentils and wheat even when I’m away.”
Devendra also thanked his personal coach Sunil Tanwar a SAI, Hisar coach for being his guiding light, especially in the dark when he was overcoming a shoulder injury ahead of the Paralympics
“There were some special Theraband (resistance bands) exercises that really helped in strengthening my muscle. My success is incomplete without them.”
When he was eight, his left hand had to be amputated immediately, after he accidentally touched a live cable entwined in a branch of tree he had climbed. Majority thought he was “dead”, but he turned ostracism into his strength and came out even stronger and more determined.
Many thought he was “dead” but the life of the son of a farmer’s couple changed forever as ostracism had left him more determined.
In the initial days he would practise with bamboo-made javelin and compete alongside able-bodied athletes during a Railways trial. “The normal kids did not want to play with me so I took up sport and decided to do better than them,” he said.