Sundar Singh Gurjar was just 52 seconds late to reach the call room before his event at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and that cost him. India’s top Para javelin thrower was disqualified.
With his four-year dream shattered in seconds, Gurjar was devastated and slipped into depression.
A long journey began to piece himself together that included psychiatric support and the right set of people around him. His coach and close friends rallied behind him, which was important to help him out of a dark period.
“That disqualification broke me mentally,” Gurjar said. “I didn't want to touch javelin again. But my coach Mahabir Prasad Saini took me for counselling and arranged sessions with motivational speakers. The rest is history.”
After his recovery, Gurjar won gold at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships. The 24-year-old is now waiting to fulfil his impending dream - to win that elusive medal at Tokyo 2020 next year.
“Whatever happened in Rio is still haunting me,” said Gurjar, shaking his head in disbelief. “I was in good touch and hoping for a podium finish.”
Gurjar went on to win a silver medal in the men’s F46 of the 2018 Asian Para Games in Indonesia. He was also impressive the same year at the World Para Athletics Championships in UAE, immediately after recovering from his shoulder injury. From being placed second until the fifth round, his sixth attempt saw him clear a distance of 61.22m for gold and also a berth at Tokyo 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic postponed the Games in Tokyo, but Gurjar was determined to stay on course, even despite the nationwide lockdown. The resident of Jaipur, Rajasthan, reached out to the Sports Minister of his state Ashok Chandna for permission to use the facilities during lockdown.
“I want to be at Tokyo in the best of my shape. I didn’t want to sit at home and wait for things to happen. So, I requested our minister and he allowed me to use the hostel. It wasn’t easy because the entire country was in lockdown, but Mr Chandna went out of his way to help me out,” said Gurjar, who lost his left palm following an accident in 2015 while placing a tin shade in his friends' house.
The decision to continue his practice during lockdown helped him immensely.
“During this lockdown, my throw has improved,” the Indian athlete explained. “I am now throwing beyond 68 metres. This is something that has boosted my confidence for the Tokyo Games as 63.97 metres is a world record. But I’m not taking anything lightly.
“This is the best thing that has happened before Tokyo,” he continued. “True, I am disappointed because the Games have been postponed. But I am fully ready for it.”
“I worked hard to reach here and if I can win a medal in Tokyo 2020, it will be an ultimate achievement for me. Be rest assured, I will be giving my best to win it for my country.”