Until 2018, Bhutan’s Chimi Dema did not feel comfortable with her height. But her life has been completely transformed since she discovered Para athletics over a year ago.
Now Dema's sole aim is to the become Bhutan’s first ever Para athlete to represent at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“Now, I thank God every night before going to sleep. Earlier, I used to complain that why was I made the way I’m and not like my friends,” said the 27-year-old, who began her sporting career as a shot putter in the F40 class.
It did not take long for Dema to realise her full potential as she achieved the Minimum Qualifying Standard (MQS) for the Paralympics in her debut tournament, throwing 4.29m at the Beijing Grand Prix in May 2019.
Later in November, with the support of the IPC's NPC Development Programme, she competed at her first World Championships in Dubai and bettered the previous mark with 4.51m. That benchmark has put her on the brink of booking her ticket for Tokyo 2020.
“MQS is one of the criteria for an athlete to make it to Paralympics. Our other athletes don’t have MQS. The chances of Dema making it to Tokyo is high,” said coach Penjor Gyeltshen.
Life was far from easy for Dema until 2018. She had lost her job while working in the dispatch department of a private sector company in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu.
“I wanted to be a nurse, but I couldn’t. I studied till 12th and couldn’t continue because I did not get good marks in my boards. There on, it was about taking up a job to fend myself and the family,” says Dema, who shared her accommodation with her cousin and relied on her brother for financial support.
“We lived hand to mouth and it’s not easy to survive in metropolitan city which is expensive. On top of that, I lost my job and felt as if it was a dead end,” she recalled.
It was in 2018 that Bhutan’s National Paralympic Committee was conducting a trial for people with short stature.
“I thought I should give it a try and I was picked to compete in the F40. There were not many wheelchair athletes and the knowledge is also limited and so are the shortage of equipment,” said Dema, whose career got a boost following a programme started with help of the Nippon Science University in Japan under the Nippon Sports University Expansion of Para Participation for Development countries (NEPP).
Dema had not played any sport before in school and her recreation activity was either watching TV, listening to stories or reading.
“I wasn’t confident if I could do any sport, but I decided to give it a try,” said Dema, whose biggest challenge as per coach Gyeltshen was to get her competition fit.
“She did not have strong muscles, nor flexibility or any idea of sport. So, we needed her to get the basics strong before going onto the next level. And boy, she did it fast,” he said.
The young athlete too is surprised with the way she has transformed herself to pursue a sport.
“I feel proud. My parents are proud too with whatever have I achieved in two years. Financially, I am getting all kinds of support from various organisation so I am now solely focusing on my sport,” said Dema, who has not let the COVID-19 pandemic affect her training.
“I have my set goals and that is to make my country Bhutan proud. I am targeting a medal at the Paralympics if I get a chance and so I have continued my practices at home,” revealed Dema, who trains in her backyard due to the lockdown.
Though uphill task lay ahead of Dema if she makes it to Tokyo, these are moments to cherish for the tiny mountain nation looking to make their presence felt in the sport. And coach Gyeltshen urges his countrymen to celebrate the moment when it comes.
“Whatever may be the result, Dema will make history by becoming the first athlete to participate in Paralympics in the Kingdom of Bhutan. There are plenty of experienced athletes out there, so the competition is tough. It will be a huge learning curve for her and a huge boost for Bhutan,” said Gyeltshen.