Against All Odds: Kathuniya’s personal fight to turn silver into gold in Paris

New Delhi, May 23 (PTI) The wheelchair was an object of fascination for Yogesh Kathuniya, until at the tender age of nine, he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder.

Doctors told him that he wouldn’t walk again and soon he was confined to a wheelchair.

“As a kid, Yogesh didn’t know why wheelchair was used. Whenever he would see it, he would tell mother that he wants that ‘rickshaw’ and then he actually got it,” his sister Pooja had said once.

But within three years Yogesh started to walk again, thanks to his mother, Meena Devi, who learnt physiotherapy to treat her son.

Yogesh soon took to sport with gusto, finding his calling in para discus throw.

The 27-year-old from Haryana secured a silver medal in the men’s F56 category discus throw with an effort of 41.80 meters at the World Para Athletics Championships in Kobe, Japan on Monday.

“I still get goosebumps when I think about those days. But I was fortunate to be among the 1% who were able to walk. There are still a lot of neurological disorder issues which can’t be cured,” Yogesh told PTI.

“I walk with AFOs (ankle-foot orthosis) in both legs but I can’t walk for long. In GB syndrome, there is muscle loss quickly, so I need to eat well, work out regularly. But I feel motivated thinking about it all because I am representing the country.” The silver medal in Japan was important as it sealed his spot for the Paralympics but Yogesh is livid to finish second best once again and says it is now a “personal fight” for him to win the gold at Paris.

Yogesh had claimed the silver medal at the Tokyo Paralympics, 2023 Paris Para World Athletics Championships, and Asian Para Games before finishing second best once again in Japan.

“I am desperate to win gold. It has become a personal fight for me now. I have been collecting silver medals. I am fed up with winning silver medals and coming second all the time. Now I don’t want another silver,” he said.

“I will work hard, I won’t go home. I just hope I stay fit for the next 100 days.” The F56 category is meant for athletes who compete in field events from a seated position. Different athletes, including those with amputations and spinal cord injuries, compete in this class.

On Monday, Yogesh was, however, in for a shock when he learnt about the new foul rules in Kobe on the day of his competition.

“There were only two players who hit above 40m (gold winner Claudiney Batista Dos Santos being the other). It is because there were a lot of strict new rules. If you move even a little bit, you get a hip foul,” he said.

In seated throw events, athletes have to make six throws in six minutes while sitting on custom-made throwing frames, which are secured to the ground by straps. Athletes use straps to secure themselves to the frame, as any movement below the navel can attract different kinds of fouls from the judges.

“My preparation was very good, but when I started the warm-up, they said I was getting a foul. So I put another belt on it, but I had never practiced with five belts, so it affected my technique.

“But I am very happy. Now I don’t need to give a trial because the PCI said that whoever gets a medal here, their spot will be final for the Paralympics. And so I can focus completely on Paris.” Yogesh said he has to address this issue so that he doesn’t commit fouls in Paris.

“I am not satisfied with my performance. I will have to be more cautious now in Paris. I have to stop the foul. I have 3 months now, so I can fix it.

“If you see my technique, I have hit the highest score in the seated throw to date (48.34 m). So technically, I’m sound. But I have to do a lot of technical changes to stop the foul. I also have to work a lot on my strength, endurance, and flexibility.” Last year, Yogesh was left bedridden after being down with chicken pox. When he recovered and started training again, keeping the World Para Athletics Championships and Asian Para Games in mind, he felt pain in his neck, which was diagnosed as cervical radiculopathy.

“I pushed too much after recovering from chicken pox but I had to bring a quota for India and a medal too. I didn’t want to miss these two major events so I played with an injury.

“After that, I did rehab, and now I am fit. I will compete in a couple of more competitions before the Paris Paralympics.” Yogesh has also hired the services of Nanaki J. Chadha, a sports and performance psychologist, and the sessions have been of great help.

“I hired psychologist, Nanaki Chadha, ma’am a month back. I take sessions twice a week. She was my mental trainer even during the Tokyo Paralympics. But in between, I was in my academy in Panchkula, so we couldn’t talk. I think I’m mentally stronger now.”

Source: PTI News


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