A sports coach is generally perceived as a strict disciplinarian and a constant pusher. But for the students of SPJ Sadhana,a school for the intellectually-challenged,Rajshri Ghosalkar is more of a friend than the usual exacting coach.
Having trained special children in athletics and various other sports for over 20 years now,41-year-old Rajshri knows exactly what goes on in the mind of a special child and has been successfully training them for state,national and international level Special Olympics.
When asked whether it is particularly difficult to physically and mentally train children with mental disabilities,Rajshri promptly denies it. Not one bit. All that these children lack is direction and encouragement. Once you identify their interests and put them on the right track,their focus and concentration are better than normal people like us, she says.
Though she trains children in various forms of athletics such as running,swimming,cycling and other sports such as basketball,volleyball,handball,volleyball etc,her favourite games are table tennis and badminton in which she won state-level medals as a Bachelor of Arts student in the SNDT University.
Rajshri admits that many times it is the apprehension on the part of the parents which acts as a hindrance. It is natural for parents to feel concerned about their children and this prevents them from letting them explore their full potential. We also have to counsel parents and try to encourage them to let their child progress in sports, she says.
She also admits that special children are very moody and one needs to handle the situation sensitively. Sometimes they do not feel like playing,either mentally or physically or both. They should not be pushed like normal people or they tend to turn aggressive and cranky. They are special and hence they need a lot of love and affection, she says with a smile.
Rajshri first joined the school as a clerical staff soon after her graduation in 1989 as her family was not well-off. Due to staff crunch in the school at the time,she was asked to assist the then coach to the National Special Olympics Bharat Games in Hyderabad. This is when I saw these children trying hard and fighting their limitations to indulge in sports that are both physically and mentally taxing. I fell in love with them. I then shifted full time into the sports department of the school and in 1998 I was appointed as the head coach and led the first contingent of special children from the school to the Special Olympics in Chandigarh the same year, she says.
In this event,three of her students won gold medals in athletics and swimming. In the case of kids with severe disabilities,Rajshri helps them in playing individual and non-strenuous sports such as Bocce. Team games help these kids sharpen their coordination skills,but for those with severe problems it becomes very difficult to concentrate and be a part of the game. We help such children in enjoying individual sports, she says.
Among her many achievements are that two of her athletes participated in the cycling event at the International Special Olympics in North Carolina in the US last year and one student won a gold medal in swimming at the International Special Olympics in Shanghai in 2007.
However,she maintains all her students are winners. For these children,participation is as good as winning, she says. When asked about her future plans,she says training a contingent of special children for the National Paralympics to be held in March 2011 is her immediate goal.
As far as the long-term goal is concerned,I want to do what Im doing till my body permits, she adds.