On Monday, as 32-year-old Amit Saroha was preparing for his club throw event in the F51 category at the World Para Athletics Championships, he was also keeping a close eye on his trainee Dharambir Nain. As a coach to more than 20 Haryana athletes, Saroha has been tracking their progress for the last four years. While Rio paralympics gold medallist Dimitririjevic Zel of Serbia set a world record with a throw of 31.75m, followed by 31.99 in his second throw, Saroha was in close conversation with Dharambir, who was battling high fever. That did not prevent Saroha from registering a personal best of 29.55m in his first attempt and with his third, a new Asian record of 30.25m, which took him to a historic second World Para Championships silver medal.
Saroha’s record throw was an improvement of upon his 26.63m mark in Rio where he finished a close fourth behind Marian Kureja of Slovakia. “I was leading in Rio at one point but could not improve in the later stages. Here in London, I used the last one week for training and sharing inputs with Dharambir and woman para-athlete Ekta, who also competes in the same event. Talking with my trainees always motivates me and I wanted to improve my personal best in my first attempt. I am happy that I set a new Asian record and this medal is also for my trainees,” said Saroha, who belongs to Bayanpur village in Haryana’s Sonepat district.
A former hockey player, Saroha suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident near Murthal on September 21, 2007. The farmer family took the then 22-year-old to the Indian Spinal Injury Centre in Delhi and later to PRC, Pune. A chance meeting with American wheelchair rugby player Jonathan Sigworth introduced Saroha to para sports and he competed in wheelchair rugby for two years. “After the injury, Amit spent more than six months in rehabilitation. We would often talk about sport and it was during one of the visits that he met Jonathan in Pune. During the same week, Jonathan took a dive in a swimming pool and Amit said he could also do that. He had never swum after his accident and we were worried. But he took the dive and swam with confidence. It was like a rebirth for him and for all of us,” remembers Sumit Kumar, Saroha’s elder brother, a basketball player.
While Saroha started with shot put and took part in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, it was spending time with judges and officials which prompted him to shift to discus and club throw. Two months later, Saroha competed at the Asian Para Games in Guangzhou and won a silver medal. It was during this time that he moved from the Haryana sports department to the Sports Authority of India .
A gold medal in club throw and silver in discus throw, where he competes in the F52 category, at the 2014 Asian Para Games in Incheon, South Korea, brought cash awards useful in supporting other athletes. Saroha would travel to Rohtak every weekend to train 20 youngsters, which included javelin thrower Rinku Hooda, who finished fourth in London earlier this week. “Our father Balbir Saroha died in 2008 and could not see Amit win any medals. When Amit was posted as coach with SAI, he met some athletes from Rohtak who faced difficulty in travelling to Sonepat. Amit decided to coach in Rohtak every weekend,” shares Sumit. In 2015, Saroha won his first silver medal at the World Para Athletics Championships in Doha with a throw of 25.44m and qualified for Rio. After Monday’s medal, he wants to focus on his preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. “The disappointment of missing a medal in Rio is still there. I am 32 and today’s medal proves I still have plenty left in me,” said Saroha.