For 21-year-old Mariyappan T, life, so far, has been a race against obstacles.
He was in class 1 when his right limb was amputated after an accident. At 10, he lost his father. For eleven years since then, his mother, a labourer at a brick kiln, is raising him and three siblings in Omalur - a remote hamlet in Salem district of Tamil Nadu.
But, despite odds, Mariyappan refused to give up on his dreams. The business administration graduate has just qualified for 2016 Summer Paralympics to be held at Rio de Janeiro. He will represent India in the high jump event along with two other para-athlethes at the Games to be held in the Brazilian between September 7 and 18.
The feat, however, has a Gurgaon connection. Talented Mariyappan was spotted and honed through the efforts of Arhan Bagati, a class 12th student at the Shri Ram School, Moulsari in Gurgaon’s DLF City Phase 3. Bagati, an athlete himself, was recently appointed ‘Awareness and Impact Ambassador’ by the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI).
“More than a dream-come-true, it is another challenge for me,” says Mariyappan, as translated from Tamil by his Bangalore-based coach Satyanarayana. “I can’t thank Arhan and my coach enough,” he says.
Sixteen-year-old, Arhan got in touch with the para-athlete from lesser-known Salem through his efforts to generate awareness about paralympic sports. Before developing the mobile app, InRio, loaded with medical information of the participating athletes last year, Arhan was made the ‘Awareness and Impact Ambassador’ to promote games played by the physically challenged. He contacted coach Satyanarayana there and the two tied up to spot the talents. Mariyappan along with three other para-athletes were picked for qualification bid by this academy where Arhan is now a member. Given there is a cap of only-three athletes per country, three out of four who have qualified, would be able to participate at the event.
“My dream is to see at least a contingent of 150 representing Indian at the Para Olympics in Tokyo in 2020,” says Bagati.
While the largest-ever 10-member Indian contingent participated in four events in London Games, 18 members would represent the country in Rio Games. Others who have qualified for the high jump event include Varun Singh Bhatia from Uttar Pradesh, Sharad Kumar from Bihar and HN Girisha from Karnataka who won silver medal at the London games in 2012.
Given the medal-winning potential seen in Mariyappan, the Union minister of youth affairs and sports, Sarbananda Sonowal sanctioned a budget of Rs 20 Lakh under the ‘Top Scheme’ to train him for the Rio event. Mariyappan, his coach Satyanarayan and Arhan met the minister in Delhi on Friday.
Prior to the qualification, Mariyappan clinched gold medals in International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) Junior World Games held in Netherlands in 2015 and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Athletics Championship in Tunisia earlier this year.
In March 2013, he won the high jump event at the National Paralympics Athletics. At present Mariyappan holds world rank 2 in high jump category.