Call him the Oscar Pistorius of India. While the South African 'blade runner' started participating against able-bodied athletes out of choice, Hosanagara Nagarajegowda Girisha has to do it because of lack of awareness.
Girisha was forced to compete with able-bodied athletes in district and state-level meets in Karnataka, simply because neither he nor his coaches were aware that there were separate games for the disabled. That didn't stop the resident of Hosanagara in Hassan district from winning medals, inspite of a deformed left leg after polio struck when he was young.
It was this never-say-die spirit that helped the 24-year-old bag a silver medal in the high jump - F42 category - at the London Paralympics on Monday. Girisha's is only the ninth medal won by India at the Paralympics, and the first in eight years.
Life has been a struggle for Girisha, whose father Nagarajegowda is a farmer and still works tirelessly to make ends meet for the family of five. "But he never discouraged Girisha and he started representing his school since 10," Girisha's cousin Harish told HT.
Girisha, who has no job, competed against able-bodied athletes till university level, when he learnt of the para games from officials in Bangalore, who had come to witness competitions in Hassan district. He soon shifted to disabled sports and found success at the national level.
At 18, Girisha was selected to train at SAI's southern centre in Bangalore in 2006, where he trained under Satyanarayana. For the last few months, he was under Ukrainian coach Evgeni Nikitin.
"It was very difficult for him initially, living alone in Bangalore for 5-6 months. He used to be very lonely and had to do everything himself as we couldn't afford an escort with him. But he never complained," said Harish.
Garisha has received support from Samarthanam, a Bangalore-based NGO for the disabled, since 2008. But it hasn't been much to supplant his father's meagre resources. Now that he has won a medal, his family hopes he will receive support from the government that would help Girisha settle down in life.
Nagarajegowda's phone hasn't stopped ringing with congratulatory messages. The entire village had gathered at his house since morning and they are planning a grand function in Bangalore after Girisha returns from London.