Javelin thrower Sundar Singh Gurjar, 22, has contemplated suicide twice in his life. The first time was when he lost his arm in a freak accident in 2015 and the second, when he failed to reach the competition area on time at the 2016 Paralympics.
But on both occasions, he overcame the urge to take his own life and with support from his coach he started anew. The Rajasthan athlete’s resilience paid off as he enjoyed a gold-laden 2017, which included a Para Worlds medal in London.
Less than a fortnight ago, Sundar eclipsed the world record set by Devendra Jhajharia at the Paralympics in Rio, the event he could not participate in because he did not hear the ‘call’ though he was in the waiting room.
At the PCI Indian Open Para Athletics championship in Bengaluru he won a javelin gold (F-46) with a 64.11 metre throw, better than Jhajharia’s 63.97m record.
“It’s been a huge struggle to reach here. I had lost the will to live after the Rio incident. It took me four months to even get back to the training ground. I would go reluctantly but then something happened,” Sundar told The Indian Express.
Sundar’s coach since 2009, Mahaveer shared a motivational video with the ward. The video was about legendary Hungarian shooter Karoly Takacs.
Takacs’s story in a nutshell: He was left out of the 1936 Olympic squad as he was a sergeant then and rules allowed only commissioned officers to take part in the Games. The rule was subsequently lifted but two years later he lost his right arm — the one he used to shoot — because of a faulty grenade. He trained in secret and learnt to shoot with his left arm.
The next two editions of the Games were called off due to the second World War. But he finally won gold in the 25m rapid fire pistol in back-to-back Olympics —1948 and 1952.
“I missed out on one of the Paralympics and here this man had to wait for over a decade to fulfill his Olympic dream. It changed my outlook completely. I knew I had wasted enough time thinking about the past and started taking my training seriously again,” Sundar said.
Since then, motivational videos and sports biopics have become a major part of his online video consumption. Sundar, whose favourite movie is Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, trains for eight hours a day on an average. Coach Mahaveer says special emphasis is laid on strength training apart from the various drills.
“His USP is his strength and we want to harness it further. He is very young and has a lot of potential. I can assure you that he will breach the 70 metre mark in the near future,” Mahaveer says. The coach has been training Sundar for over seven years now and it was on his advice that the then shot-putter switched to javelin when he was 13.
Sundar says if it hadn’t been for Mahaveer, achieving a world record would be a far-fetched dream. It was Mahaveer who became his pillar of strength when Sundar, then 19, lost his left arm while helping his parents build a shed. The incident forced Sundar to switch to the para discipline and he quickly made a name for himself.
At the International IPC International Athletics Grand Prix in Dubai in 2017, India returned with five gold medals and three (javelin, discus and shot put) belonged to him. He was favourite to take the top spot in Rio. “Imagine, this is all you dreamt of and all of sudden I’m told you can’t participate. My body was numb for a second. After the Rio incident, I told my coach I will commit suicide. But he motivated and advised me. He was so concerned about me that he wouldn’t let me be alone even for a moment. Even while I used the washroom he would patiently wait outside,” Sundar said.
Mahaveer had to follow the drill until his ward bagged the first gold by an Indian at the World Para Athletics Championships in 2017. “But now things are different. Sundar is very positive and will do extremely well at the Asian Para Games in Jakarta.”
Breaking the world record may have eased his pain but it has not vanished altogether. “I will overcome the pain only after I win a Paralympic Gold. And I know I will.”