Small strides, giant hearts

Dwarf sportspersons make serious attempts at gaining recognition

Small strides, giant hearts

Ambition and desire to succeed despite all odds are traits that define sportspersons irrespective of their physical make-up.

If anyone had doubts about that, a visit to the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore would have wiped it out instantly. In seriously competitive mood were a clutch of dwarf athletes, vying for top spots in the National Dwarf Games and also for places in the Indian team.

Life might have put challenges ahead of them very early but the spirit to swim against the tide has carried many of them already onto the international stage. It hasn’t been easy, battling their inner demons as well as the society’s attitude.

“I was very passionate about running in school but was discouraged by my teachers as they felt I would not be able to compete with others boys with normal height,’’ says Devappa More, just three feet tall but a giant in terms of achievements, having won three gold medals — in the 60M, 100M and 200M — at the 12th World Dwarf Games in Belfast, Ireland, in 2009.

The 37-year-old from Dharwad’s Kalghatti taluk refused to be deterred by the negative remarks from a tough world as he brought home laurels from the international arena. He is not the lone ranger in that journey. Kerala’s Akash Madhavan echoes More’s feelings about the negative feedback from a few friends and teachers.

“During my school days, the physical education teacher would let me take part in selection trials but I would never feature in the final squad as he felt I would not stand a chance against normal athletes,’’ adds the 24-year-old.

Lack of awareness and opportunities is a big drawback faced by athletes competing in dwarf sports. “It was only last year that I got to know there was national and international competitions for athletes like us. That awareness opened the doors for me,’’ explains Madhavan, who won medals in shot put and 50M at the National Open Games in Chennai in March this year.

In contrast to More and Madhavan, Mumbai’s Ruhi Shingade is a mult-tasker, competing in badminton, powerlifting and athletics. “I have been supported really well by my family, school and my neighbours. They push me to do better whenever I go to compete at any national meet,’’ the 19-year-old says, targetting the World Dwarf Games in Michigan, USA later this year.

“I must somehow win a medal and comeback..win something, it is my first international meet,’’ the final-year BCom student from AE Kalsekar College in Thane asserts with a firm tone.

Limelight is what eludes these athletes, as Ruhi explains. “I also want to be famous like Saina Nehwal and get that kind of adulation. We may not compete on the same level but I work as hard as her. We can achieve it.. we must try hard,’’ reasons Ruhi with a sense of determination.

KG Prabhu, World No 6 in para badminton, has journeyed 20 years in his quest for recognition. The 42-year-old from Bellary says his younger days were spent in the lap of sport. “I was into kho-kho and kabaddi and enjoyed it in a big way,’’ Prabhu says.

Prabhu’s initiation into badminton, the sport that would go on to become his true calling, happened once he completed his 10th standard and his brother had a role to play as well.

“My brother was an employee at Kudremukh Iron Ore Company (KIOC) and he got me a job as the club boy at the Officers Club there. So I learned a bit about badminton watching the officers play and would be called in to play if there were not many officers around,’’ the India No 1 reveals.

Though he started late, Prabhu has not looked back since blazing a trail of glory starting with two gold medals at a national meet in Bangalore in 2009. International success came at the Israel Open in 2010, where he won the singles gold and followed that up with a silver and bronze at the Spain and French Opens respectively in 2012.
Prabhu was among the lucky few who received good support early. “The officers at KIOC were very helpful. They actually footed most of my expenses when it came to international meets. I was propped up at every point,’’ he said.

There is a hint of sadness in Prabhu when he is asked about the attitude of the people around him despite all his achievements.  “There are stray incidents, especially in villages, when someone on the street makes fun of me..chides me. I just ignore it, it’s part of life,’’ Prabhu.

CV Rajanna’s is another tale of going that extra mile to prove the naysayers wrong. The 34-year-old from Kolar had his share of critics trying to pull him down and shatter his confidence with their pessimism. 

“I had people around me who didn’t give me a chance of winning. They said I would not be able to achieve this and that because of the way I am but I went on despite all that,” says Rajanna who has bagged a bucketful of medals in a career spanning 13 years.
The self-trained Rajanna is hopeful of a decent performance at the Worlds in August. “I am confident of winning at least a medal,’’ adds the athlete who won the Ekalavya award in 2012 and the Kempegowda award in 2011.

“No matter what we do and how much we achieve our performances will never get the kind of spotlight that the normal athletes get,’’ Rajanna says, expressing the thought that nags other dwarf athletes as well.

“We feel great that we have done something for the country, but sometimes there are moments when I regret the way I am made. I wish if I was taller, I could have done so much more.”

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