From Churu in Rajasthan to Rio de Janeiro, it has been a quite a journey for javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia. When he landed in Rio for the Paralympics earlier this month, Jhajharia knew the road is coming to an end. And winning a medal was the perfect way to finish his story. In fact, the ending was better than he would have thought — Jhajharia not only won gold in the F46 javelin throw event, he also bettered the world record set by him 12 years ago in Athens.
Winning two gold in two Paralympics (the F46 event didn’t feature in the 2008 and 2012 editions) is a testament to Jhajharia’s will to succeed. But the 36-year old also knew that from a very young age. He was electrocuted after touching a high voltage live wire while climbing a tree, resulting in his left hand being amputated. The incident however didn’t deter Jhajhara from telling himself that he needed one good arm to make a name for himself. “I didn’t know what electricity was at the time. There was no electricity in the village, but it was travelling on a cable that ran through there,” Jhajharia was quoted as saying in a story published in Livemint earlier this year.
“The first javelin that I owned, I fashioned it myself from a bamboo stick,” he said. “I started in athletics with javelin. I liked it because I could do it with one arm. I was very thin and weak so I couldn’t really do shot-put. Even discus was heavy. This was a little easy.” It was as if Jhajharia was destined to be a javelin thrower.
Thus started Jhajharia’s fascinating tale. Participating in the school sports is one thing, training for an international event like Paralympics is another. Negligible awareness, poor infrastructure and financial hiccups were intrinsic to Jhajharia’s journey. But he continued doing what he does best — assimilate all his strength in his right shoulder to launch the javelin as hard as possible.
Jhajharia first came into prominence in 2002 when he won gold at Busan Para Asian Games. Two years later, he set the world record of 62.15m at Athens Paralympics to win gold. Much before Abhinav Bindra’s feat, Jhajharia had made India sing the national anthem with pride. “I didn’t sleep that whole night,” said Jhajharia. “At 11.30pm, I sat up thinking, is this a dream? Did I actually do that? The Indian national anthem was played at the Games for the first time, the Indian tricolour was fluttering. That day was for India, and there can’t be a better feeling.”
That gold winning effort by Jhajharia is known to have started the revolution for para-athletes in India. He was honoured with the Arjuna award in 2004 and the Padma Shri in 2012. Between those two recognitions was a period of very little activity after Jhajharia’s event was dropped from the Paralympics. He didn’t lose heart though. He kept training till making a fabulous comeback in the 2013 World IPC meet in Lyon where he won gold. It was followed by silver medals at the 2014 Incheon Para Asian Games and the 2015 Doha IPC meet before Jhajharia went back to his old habit of winning gold at the Dubai IPC meet earlier this year. Turns out, that was not going to be his only gold in 2016.