Mariyappan Thangavelu lost a leg when he was just five years old. He was playing outside his house when a bus of the state-owned transport corporation hit him. The family is still fighting a case in court.
But that did not stop Mariyappan, now 21 years old. He scripted history on Friday by bagging the gold medal in the men’s T42 high jump on the second day of the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Mariyappan hails from Periyavadagampatti village in Salem district of Tamil Nadu, some 340km from Chennai. His mother, Saroja, sells vegetables on a cycle and works as a casual labourer. The father abandoned the family more than a decade ago.
But with his mother’s support, Mariyappan honed his skills and won many medals at school and college levels. Last year, he completed his degree in business administration and has been trying for a regular job. He has yet to get one.
Mariyappan’s coach, Satyaranayana of Bangalore, trained him for the Games and made him dream big.
“We were watching live, the event. At precisely 2.52am, my brother leapt to a gold medal. And for a minute it seemed as if it was a dream, but no it was for real.
“My brother was standing on the podium with the medal...we always were confident he would win a medal. And his coach was sure that he would get a gold,” said Kumar, Mariyappan’s younger brother.
The family burst crackers and distributed sweets as villagers came calling to their one-room house -- for which they have to pay Rs 500 per month.
“I sincerely thank each and every one who is supporting my boy,” said Saroja, the mother of four children who earns Rs 150 to Rs 200 on a good day.
“We hope that Mariyappan’s achievement is recognised by the government and he gets a job that will help the family as well,” Kumar said.
Periya Karuppan, the district sports officer, congratulated Mariyappan and his coach Satyanarayana on the phone in the morning. Karuppan said he will do everything to help him.