Turning disability into his strength
Devendra Jhajhria is the first Indian to win a gold medal in the Paralympics. He threw the javelin to a record-breaking distance of 62.15 metres at the Athens Games, a record by the Rajasthani that has withstood the test of time.
The 28-year-old, who’s left arm was amputated from below the elbow, received the Arjuna Award in 2005 for his heroics in Athens. The defending Asian Paralympics champion and International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) Games silver-medallist spoke about his personal tragedy and gold-winning moment in Paralympics.
Tell us about your childhood.
I couldn’t enjoy my childhood as at the age of eight I lost my left hand. Luckily it was not my right hand so I could do all the things I wanted freely without any one’s support. But I felt sad after being amputated because other children use to wander freely. And at times they used to make fun of me also. It was a struggle.
How did the tragedy happen?
Climbing the trees was my hobby, so on that fateful day I didn’t see an electric wire lying over the branches and I touched it without realising that it was a live wire. My parents tried their best to save my hand but they couldn’t do anything as amputation was the only way to save my life.
From where did you receive motivation to become a sportsperson?
When I looked around I saw many people who didn’t have either legs or hands. I then realised that I am lucky enough to have my right hand. I was interested in sports and naturally that was enough motivation for me to take up sports. Then lot of hard work and practice paid off. †
You have been competing with normal athletes also, did you win any medal competing with them?
I won a bronze medal for Bikaner University in the All-India Inter-University athletics meet in 2004. I was also selected to attend a camp for Beijing Olympics but failed to get a place in the team.
Give us details about your gold-winning moments in Athens Paralympics?
Actually, I didn’t expect gold there. The fact that I broke the world record gave me more satisfaction. So obviously I was taken by surprise. I will never forget that moment. It took an hour for me to get back to normal. Tears flowed when I received the medal. It was an overwhelming experience which you get only once in your life. I don’t think I will experience that feeling again even if you win a medal for the second time. I was happy that I did something for my country.
That gold also gave me Arjuna Award. One thing I want to mention is the effort of my coach Dronacharya Awardee R D Singh. Without him I couldn’t have achieved anything in my life.
Most difficult decision in your life?
Pulling out of Beijing Paralympics. My right shoulder was injured during the training. I thought I would recover before the Games but that didn’t happen. So I withdrew from the squad. I was totally upset that I couldn’t defend my title there.
Do you feel that you got everything in your life just like any other normal person?
Yes, surely. My disability is my key to success. If I was a normal person then I wouldn’t have put on that much effort. I have a job with the Indian Railways in Bilaspur and I am married.
What are your plans for future?
I would like to compete with normal athletes. Participating in the Olympics with able bodied athletes is my dream.
What do you have to say about the IWAS Games here?
It’s good as far as Indian athletes are concerned. But for foreigners it would have been nice if they were provided with more facilities. I won my title in Bangalore, so overall it’s been good for me.