Avani Lekhara: This medal proves no disability can stop me from excelling in what I want to do
All eyes were glued to the television as 20-year-old para shooter Avani Lekhara scripted history on Monday by becoming the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Paralympics. Firing her way to the win during her debut at Paralympics in Tokyo, a delighted Lekhara, says, “I want people to look at me and feel that if Avani can do it, then why can’t we! If my medal can inspire even one person, it will be a great thing for me... No one should feel sad about their disability. Just do what you want to do and there’s no one who can tell you that you can’t do something. You have to believe in yourself. There’s no substitute for hard work so just give your 100% and you’ll surely achieve what you want. When life hits you, you hit even harder. This Tokyo Paralympics should be the turning point for everyone. We should all build a strong team together!”
A student of BA LLB, she juggled sports and academics to reach where she’s today. “It’s the dream of every athlete to represent their country and win a medal. I’ve been training for the past five to six years. Amid the pandemic, I built a target set up in my home. I’ve not attended my college because of my training. My studies were affected and I was unable to give my exams. To put aside my studies and focus completely on the sport has been the hardest sacrifice. I’ve missed my friends reunions, birthdays and other parties because I was practising all the time. But it was my parents and brother who were my biggest support system throughout all this,” she adds.
She’s received a barrage of congratulatory calls and messages on her win, and feels grateful for the love coming her way. But the “most special congratulatory call came from our Prime Minister, which was so amazing”. “Modi ji congratulated me and wished me luck for future. It felt like a life time moment,” shares the 19-year-old rifle shooter from Jaipur, adding that her inspiration on the field has been Olympian Abhinav Bindra. “I was delighted to read Abhinav sir’s tweet! He is my inspiration. It’s always been him. I’ve always wanted to win a gold medal just like him. It felt surreal to be congratulated by him. I still can’t believe all this is happening. It still feels like a dream. I’m not thinking too much about it since I have to focus on my other matches, too.” she adds.
Dedicating her win to India, Lekhara says when she took the winning shot, she “wasn’t thinking of the medal”. “I was just focusing on my shot. I was blank, everything just went blank. But to win gold on my debut in the games, is very special. I was on cloud nine. Pata hi nahi chala kab sab ho gaya,” she says.
Feeling glad to be put on an equal pedestal as other athletes, Lekhara says, “The treatment to paralympians has been at par like other athletes. We are treated equally in terms of getting ads, endorsements, sponsorships and financial aids. And all this has happened now, which shows that India has come a long way.”
Ask the golden girl the first thing she wants to do upon reaching India, and she’s quick to reply: “I’ll take rest, meet my friends and family and give my college exams! I would love to have home-made food. I’ve been in a camp for two-three months now, and have missed home-made food. Though my mom is travelling with me, but she can’t cook here. So I want to have my favourite kadhi chawal when I reach home! And I just want to live a normal college life... I’m not thinking about the future; just living in this moment.”
Author tweets @FizzyBuddha