Five years ago, when Sharad Kumar was banned for a doping violation, his dream of representing India at the London Paralympics was shattered. Kumar had come from Bihar to Delhi for his BA exams at the Kirori Mal College and would later claim that his supplements were tampered with during his time away from the national camp in Bangalore.
A year later, Kumar enrolled for an MA in International Relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he would read Indian and international newspapers daily and tell his friends that he will win a medal at the Rio Paralympics.
But Rio saw him finishing in sixth spot, and Sharad’s dream of winning a world medal and reading about himself in the newspapers had to wait. On Sunday, the 25-year-old returned with his personal best jump of 1.84m to claim the silver medal in the men’s T42 high jump category behind Sam Grewe of USA (1.86m). Kumar’s compatriot, Rio Paralympics bronze medallist Varun Singh Bhatti, jumped 1.77m to claim the bronze medal.
“I would think about giving my best at the London Olympic Stadium in 2012 but whatever happened, I had put it behind me. Perhaps it was destiny and it helped me concentrate on my studies, what my father and family have always believed in. I had a tendon injury during the qualifying tournament in 2015 and it still hurts. And I would often read books to forget about the pain. This medal has come at the same Olympic Stadium in London and has ended the hurt of more than five years,” Sharad told The Indian Express from London.
Born in Kodarkatta Purantola village in Motihari tehsil of Bihar, Sharad contacted polio in his left leg at the age of two. With father Surender Kumar being a farmer who was keen for his son to study, he was enrolled in St Paul’s School in Darjeeling, where he took up high jump in his later years.
“It was the doctor’s mistake that he gave him a wrong polio injection. We were devastated but then we always wanted him to study hard. At that time, the monthly fee of the boarding school was Rs 5,000 and we had to borrow money from relatives and friends. When he started high jump, whenever he came home on holidays, he would ask his cousins to tie a rope on mango trees in our farm and would practice high jump with mattresses. Whenever he sees a child with polio in our village, he tells him about sport and high jump. Aaj ke medal ne sabh takleefon ko dur kar dia,” his father Surender said.
Training abroad meant that Sharad could not visit his village for the last six months. But mother Kumkum Kumari shared the joy. “High jump aur kitaben hi uski life hai. Medal le ke ghar ayega toh hum uske favourite sarso wale aloo banayenge,” she said.
While Sharad would win his first medal in the Darjeeling District championships in the early 2000s, his first national medal came at the 2008 Para National Games in Jaipur where he jumped 1.65m. A wrong entry by the officials at the 2010 Asian Games would see him compete in javelin throw before he won a silver at the Kuwait Open in 2011.
With jumps of more than 1.76m, Sharad was among the para athletes who secured a quota for London 2012 before the doping sanction. “I was registering jumps of 1.79 even in the trials. It was important for me to appear for my exams in March during which my supplements were sabotaged. I did not play for more than one year but studying at JNU gave me self-belief. Even though it did not end the disappointment of missing the London Paralympics, I would read about high jump techniques and books about sports during that time,” he remembers.
Sharad would train with his brother Shalaj Kumar at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Delhi and won a gold medal at the 2014 Asian Para Games in Incheon with a jump of 1.80m, setting a meet record. The youngster qualified for the World Para Championships with a gold medal after a jump of 1.78m in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in September before he suffered a knee injury while training in the USA.
The recurring problem would see Sharad finishing in sixth spot before he took a break till February this year. “Rio was a disappointment for me but I still have kept the Olympic dream alive. I did not compete for six months after Rio and would wrap my knee with double tapes to ease the pain. This medal has boosted my planning for the Tokyo Olympics,” he shares.
Ask him about his studies and career ambitions, and Sharad is quick to say, “I still have my International Relations and Political Science books with me and I often discuss it with my friends. Once I compete at the Tokyo Olympics, I will start preparing for UPSC and appear for the IAS exam.”s