They break barriers with brisk strokes

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BANGALORE, November 12:  On a scorching Monday afternoon, 35-year-old Manoj Sandhu, a swimmer from Haryana, drops his crutches and takes the help of his friend to get into the swimming pool. Once, he is in the pool, he pushes himself and tries to ace his counterparts. Spirits soared high at the Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre, the venue for the 13th National Paralympic swimming championship, as the audience cheered loudly for participants.

After the 50-metre backstroke competition, Manoj said that he feels like a “free man” in the pool. “At the age of two, I was affected by polio. About a decade ago, doctors advised me to go for hydrotherapy, soon after which I started taking part in competitions. For people like me, who are generally restricted to the four corners of a room, events like this serve as a breath of fresh air.”

As many as 340 swimmers from 16 States are participating in 140 events between November 10 and 12 in seven different categories (five for loco motor disabilities, Down’s syndrome, visually challenged). Mina Bhowmik (15), who hails from Purba Medinipur in West Bengal, is visually impaired but that does not deter her spirit in the pool. No sooner is she lowered into the pool with assistance, that she takes brisk strokes and pushes herself forward. “Initially I was scared of entering the pool. But now after five years of swimming, my comfort zone is in water,” says that the 15-year-old, who has secured two gold medals at the event.

Success stories

The story of almost every budding sportsperson at the venue is certain to leave you inspired. Rekha Rani (24), a mother of two from Karnal district in Haryana, not only had to beat her orthopaedic disability to participate at the event, but also had a tough time convincing her in-laws But after winning a silver medal, she says that taking the “trouble” has been “worth” it.

Although the participants have set their eyes on the medals, the participants say that the championship is also a place to meet their counterparts from across the States. P. Venkatesan (28) from Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu had his two arms amputed at the age of 10 after they were electrocuted in a paddy field. Visibly thrilled by such a large turnout at the event, Venkatesan was busy learning new words in Hindi, Kannada and Bengali to interact with his new “friends”.

For every young budding talent at the championship, there were several encouraging veterans standing by them. P. Madhavi Latha, general secretary of the Paralympic Swimming Association of Tamil Nadu, who has mobilised several participants from her State said, “Swimming is good for health and is a great remedy for people with disabilities and helps them not only exercise their muscles but also instils confidence in them.”

Deepa Malik, an Arjuna awardee, says that she took part in the event to motivate Rekha from her State. She says that she was tired of being a “wheelchair women” after her lower body was paralysed due to repetitive tumours, and says that she took to several sports to break barriers. “Sports helps me battle tumours.”

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