India’s only para-triathlete now training nation’s para-gold medallists
Lieutenant Colonel Gaurav Dutta is currently India’s only para-triathlete, having participated in 12 such events.
He now works in closely with the artificial limb centre in the city , to aid people of prior military service who have suffered a disability.
Lt Col Dutta was a national level rower during his younger days in 1985 and 1986.
This is his story.
“It was 2001 when I stepped on an NMM-14 (non metallic mine) which blew up whatever was inside the shoe. The head of the tibia was broken and there was bone marrow bleeding. Credit to my soldiers, we climbed a slope that would’ve taken 45 minutes in nearly half the time and we rushed to evacuation. I was then given treatment in Srinagar and made phone calls to my family.”
Following the protocol of every army soldier that lost a limb on the battlefield, I then came down to Pune for further treatment and to attach a limb to my amputated left leg. Here, the doctors told me I will walk in a few months, but given my athletic background, I calmly said, ‘I want to run again’.
A second surgery had to be done where they cut off a further few inches off my leg so as to get an artificial limb that will ensure a running action the same way I did prior to my injury setback. It took me time to get to terms with a completely different lower left leg, but eventually I started gliding through terrain the same way I did prior to the incident in 2001.
I was at Command Hospital for 10 months – a very long time for introspection. I had three days where I was down in the dumps worrying about what the future had in store for me before I met a certain individual, the late Captain Bikramjeet Singh Bajwa who came up to me the second day I was there. He asked me whether I wanted to sulk in bed until the end of time or whether I wanted to give my life another shot. I chose the latter and decided to roam the city that evening. At the hospital, they know that psychological rehabilitation was just as important so they did not impose any time-based restrictions on us.
This project then started and I knew that it was time for my personal ambition to take a backseat. It’s for the greater good. I gave up all the other activities but continued the triathlons. Motivating another person is never an easy task, especially one with a disability to make him believe he can do something he never thought he could do.”
It’s all in the mind for these paralympic medal hopes
It’s all in the mind. That is the sports coaching cliche that has defined generations of sportspersons across disciplines for as long as modern sport has been around.
Last second shots on the basketball court; game winning penalty on football field; two sets to love down on tennis court; and then, of course, there is injury. Each of those situations has moved the point of emphasis and ability from the muscle memory to the mind.
For these athletes though, it really is all in the mind. When you step on a land mine defending your country and lose a leg, the mind itself is both, the obstacle and the answer.
Lieutanant Colonel Gaaurav Dutta leads the pack as we appraoch ...
Each athlete here is missing an arm or a leg. And each athlete here is training to win a medal for India at the next Paralympics, held just after the next Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.
Hokato Sema, the shot putter and Rao, sprinter, have both already won golds at earlier national paralympic games. They also have medals at an international grand prix last year.
Both will go to the national games Panchkula National Games this month. Both expect to win gold. Both have work to do to get up to the medal-level for the Tokyo Paralympics.
While Rao’s best 200m timing is 24.20 seconds, David Prince ran the 200 in 22.01 seconds at the Rio Paralympics 2016 for gold.
Sema needs to beat or get close to the world record put of Aled Davies at 17.52m, thrown at the World Para Championships, London 2017.
Their coach, manager, trainer and inspiration, Lt Col Dutta, however, is already looking for other athletes to coach, manage, train and inspire to be the next paralympic superstar.
It’s the only way he knows how. It was one what one Bikramjeet Singh Bajwa did for LCol. Gaurav Dutta and it changed his life.
Now, Dutta feels that the onus is on him to not only give injured soldiers the motivation and push, but to also be a role model and stop them from feeling sorry for themselves.
“Being a part of the sports node here, I’m always on the lookout for new athletes. Initially, when I encounter people with disabilities and tell them about it, they think I’m joking. Once I show them videos of certain athletes and also prove to them that if a person like me, who’s almost 50, can do it, then why can’t you?,” asks Dutta.
Dutta’s changed a number of lives throughout his career, and as a case in point he cites the example of commander Yashdeep Dadass. After meeting him at a marriage ceremony and enquiring about his disabilities, Dutta learned that he used to swim prior to his injury. On learning that, the entire course of the conversation changed and Dadass came to the Bombay Sappers swimming pool the following day.
He was taken under his wing by the Dutta and today, Dadass is a national swimming bronze (2016) and silver (2017) medallist.
Dutta says, “There is no limit to it. You just need to challenge your body a little bit. The words ‘handicapped’ and ‘disabled’ are politically incorrect words, but let’s be clear about it, they are facts of life. Here everyone knows that they are unfortunate incidents, but we have to lead a life. You cannot wallow in self-pity and start to question ourselves.”
At the sports node in Pune, Dutta’s primary job is to keep track and field athletes motivated. He also ensures that training is done at the right time in the right manner and also that they have the necessary equipment to compete internationally. Being a part of the facility for three years, his principles and philosophies are treated as rules by the athletes as they’re seeing his motivational techniques bring the best out of them.
Dutta is backed by other professionnal coaches – Padambilochangiri, SK Mortaja and Pradeepkumar - who are also working day in and day out to make these para-athletes the professionals they are today and will also be rallying their troops on in the later this month.