When archery pro­vides an­other shot at life

Hindustan Times (Patiala) - - Sport - Ajai Masand [email protected] n

Sit­ting up­right in a wheel chair, wear­ing a blue blazer that fit snugly across his broad shoul­ders, Rakesh Ku­mar smiles ret­i­cently as he shows his bronze medal, won in the mixed team event at the Fazza Para Archery World Rank­ings In­ter­na­tional in Dubai in April. It was the only medal In­dia got at the event, and Ku­mar, 34, who is par­a­lyzed from the waist down af­ter a road ac­ci­dent, is proud of it.

That he is alive at all is some­thing of a mir­a­cle to him.

Ten years ago, on 19 Jan­uary, Ku­mar was in a car with seven other pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling from Jammu to his home in Ka­tra, the small town that serves as base for pil­grims to the Vaishno Devi tem­ple. Soon af­ter leav­ing Jammu, the car skid­ded off the road and plunged 400 feet into a gorge. Five of the nine peo­ple in the car died.

“I was pulled out by lo­cals and po­lice,” Ku­mar re­calls. “I was in my senses but couldn’t move a limb.”

Later, in the hos­pi­tal, he was to learn that he had a spinal injury that will leave him par­a­lyzed.

In the next eight years, Ku­mar tried to take his own life thrice.

Then, two years ago, while he sat in his wheel­chair on a pave­ment in Ka­tra and killed time, a car pulled up to him.

“A man came out and said he was the archery coach at the lo­cal academy,” Ku­mar says. “And he asked me to ac­com­pany him to the range.”

Ku­mar did not even know the sport ex­isted. But that day at the academy he watched chil­dren shoot­ing ar­rows, laugh­ing, com­pet­ing, and some­thing changed.

“I went to the Para na­tional cham­pi­onships next month, trav­el­ling to Se­cun­der­abad, just to watch,” he says.

When he came back to Ka­tra, he went to the academy and picked up a bow.

“My ar­rows were miss­ing the tar­get and my arms tired very quickly,” he says. “But I wanted to do this. I bor­rowed money from my brother to a hire a auto-rick­shaw to take me to the academy from my house and back.”

In Oc­to­ber that year, Ku­mar got his first com­pound bow. “That changed my life. I never missed prac­tice. I be­came No. 1 (W2 Open cat­e­gory, for para­plegic ath­letes) in the coun­try at the na­tional tri­als in Ro­htak on March 24, 2018.”

It was the be­gin­ning of a great run for Ku­mar, who grad­u­ated to win­ning medals at in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments last year, and has not stopped since. On June 3, he will be in ac­tion at the World Para Archery Cham­pi­onships in the Nether­lands.

He will be joined there by his team­mate Adil An­sari, 38, who is a quad­ri­plegic. When he shoots, An­sari has to be strapped down to his wheel­chair—“If I pick up the bow, I’ll fall on one side other­wise,” says An­sari.

An­sari is a three-time na­tional cham­pion in his cat­e­gory, and he missed out on a medal by just two points at Dubai, and is hop­ing he will do bet­ter at the Worlds.

As a young boy, An­sari was a strong swim­mer and a div­ing en­thu­si­ast, who was more likely to be found in the rivers and creeks in Bhi­wandi, the in­dus­trial city 20km from Mum­bai, than in class­rooms. In 2002, he jumped into the Kharoli river, but mis­judged just how shal­low it was that day. He hit his head on a rock and slipped into a coma.

“The doc­tors gave me 48 hours. Be­cause dirty wa­ter had en­tered my lungs, I also de­vel­oped lifethreat­en­ing pneu­mo­nia, which wasn’t re­spond­ing to treat­ment,” said An­sari.

He sur­vived, but lost all move­ment in his limbs.

An­sari points to a fur­rowed scar run­ning all the way down to his el­bow. “This is what sep­a­rates the re­gion which still has some mus­cu­lar ac­tiv­ity and the re­gion which has wasted away.”

An­sari picked up archery on the ad­vice of a friend.

To shoot, he needs more than a lit­tle help from Ma­jida, his wife of 13 years. Ma­jida helps him nock the ar­row on the bow and An­sari pulls it till the string touches his cheek. He then uses his “small in­no­va­tion”—a con­trap­tion made from a peg (used to hang clothes) and a string—to re­lease the ar­row with his mouth.

“Had Ma­jida not come in my life, I wouldn’t have achieved this,” he says. He had met her when he had de­cided to fin­ish his school­ing in 2006, four years af­ter his ac­ci­dent; Ma­jida was also ap­pear­ing for her Class 12 ex­ams at the same lo­ca­tion.

At Nether­lands, An­sari’s tar­get is to shoot well enough to qual­ify for the 2020 Par­a­lympics in Tokyo. “I am cer­tain I will,” he says. Ma­jida agrees with a nod.

HT PHO­TOS

(Above) Quad­ri­plegic archer Adil An­sari with wife Ma­jida, and (right) Rakesh Ku­mar, who won the mixed team bronze at the Fazza Para Archery World Rank­ings in Dubai with Jy­oti Baliyan.

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