Between 2009 and 2014, Indian Para archer Rakesh Kumar went through tremendous emotional turmoil following an accident.
He would feel like he was still stuck in a ravine - like the one in which the car he was travelling in plunged into after skidding off the road. Unable to walk after the accident and with his family’s meagre income stretched to the limit, Kumar was extremely depressed.
“I was just getting on my feet, had started earning enough to take care of my family. But the accident turned my whole world upside down. At an age when I had to take care of my old parents, they had to take care of me. I had become a huge financial burden on my parents and younger brother,” reminisces Kumar.
“Suicide looked the only way out,” says Kumar, who won a gold medal in the men’s compound open section of the 7th Fazza Para Archery World Ranking Tournament in Dubai, UAE, in February this year.
But a few years ago, nobody would have imagined Kumar with a bow and arrows, winning medals for India. He would have laughed out loud at such a suggestion.
SPORT CHANGED LIFE
After the accident, Kumar was not only confined to a wheelchair, heavily overweight and running a small roadside shop in his hometown in Katra, a small town in the hills of northern India which has one of India’s holiest shrines in the country, when a coach spotted him.
“The coach felt that I have strong arms and insisted I should try archery and continue if I like it,” recalls Kumar.
He tried it, and was soon hooked on to the sport. He also saw it as a means to support his family, as his younger brother was the sole breadwinner.
The organisation that maintains the shrine in his hometown helped him pursue the sport, providing him all facilities including equipment.
“The Archery Association of India, the Paralympic Committee of India, and the Sports Authority of India too have chipped in. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for me to take up the sport as I come from a very poor family and didn’t have the financial resources to take up such an expensive sport,” adds Kumar.
In the last three years, Kumar has emerged as the best in the country in open compound archery, ranked 10th in the world.
He was part of the team that won gold in the team competition at the European Circuit 2nd leg in 2018 and a bronze in the mixed team event at the 5th Fazza Para Archery World Ranking Tournament in 2019. He has had top-10 finishes in the international tournaments he has participated so far. His consistent performance helped him qualify for the Paralympics and is considered India's best medal hope in compound archery.
Anyone would feel the pressure of such huge expectations — especially in his maiden Paralympic Games.
But despite the limited exposure and little experience he has of an event of this magnitude, Kumar does not get weighed down by expectations.
“I am not thinking of a medal — God willing, it will happen. What I am more bothered about is my performance. I will be happy if I manage to give my 100 percent but fail to win a medal. However, I will be very disappointed if I fail to give my best performance in Tokyo,” says Kumar.
TENDULKAR AS REWARD
The 36-year-old is aware of his limitations and is working around them as he prepares for Tokyo. He has worked on mental conditioning with the support of a sports psychologist during the COVID-19 lockdown. The new approach has helped him take failure in his stride.
But if he wins a medal in Tokyo, he has one desire — he wants to meet cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.
“I am a great admirer of Sachin Tendulkar and want to meet him one day. If it happens after I win a medal in Paralympics, it will be like an icing on the cake. Whatever success I have achieved so far is for the country and my parents, so whatever rewards I get are for them. Meeting Tendulkar is the only reward I want for myself.”