Updated: August 30, 2021 2:49:01 pm
As 21-year-old Nishad Kumar posed alongside Americans Roderick Townsend and Dallas Wise after winning the silver medal in men’s T-47 high jump event at the Tokyo Paralympics, his parents were somehow holding back tears in village Badaun in Himachal Pradesh’s Una district.
Rashpal Singh and Pushpa Kumari remembered how, 14 years ago, Nishad lost his right hand in a fodder-cutting machine. With Rashpal working as a mason, it has been a long journey to the podium.
“As parents, whenever we remember the day when Nishad’s hand got into the fodder-cutting machine at our home, we cry. Today’s medal is the reward for his hard work. To see him hold the Indian flag and the silver medal at the Tokyo Paralympics has made us forget all the hardships,” an emotional Rashpal told The Indian Express from Una.
At Tokyo, Nishad jumped 2.02m in his first attempt in the medal round before reaching 2.06m in his third attempt. It was only bettered by Townsend with a jump of 2.15m with Wise tied with Nishad on 2.06m.
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With his father owning less than an acre of farmland in their village, Nishad grew up seeing his father doing masonry work to support the family. Nishad was six when his right hand went into the fodder-cutting machine while helping his mother at home. He was taken to a hospital in nearby Hoshiarpur in Punjab, but the hand had to be amputated.
Two years later, Nishad would opt for athletics under coach Ramesh at the Saraswati Vidya Mandir, Katohar Khurd, and would initially compete in 200m and 400m apart from high jump.
“When Nishad recovered, he was disappointed for some time but watching sports events on television aroused interest in sports and he asked coach Ramesh at his school about starting athletics. He never saw him lesser than anybody and would often tell his mother that he will do better than normal athletes. He competed in normal categories early in his career,” remembers Rashpal.
While a young Nishad would win a high jump silver medal in the sub-junior category at the 2013 National School Games in Patiala, it was not untill 2017 that he started competing in the para category. The athlete came to Panchkula to train under Naseem Ahmad, coach of Olympic javelin throw champion Neeraj Chopra, and Vikram Chaudhary. He would win the silver medal in high jump with an effort of 1.83m at the National Para Athletics Championship at Panchkula the same year. In 2019, Nishad would emerge as the champion at the World Para Grand Prix Championship in Dubai with a jump of 1.92m before getting a bronze medal at the World Para Championships at Dubai the same year with a jump of 1.99m.
“When he came to train, we were impressed by his height and the way he took advantage of it. He had learnt the basics of the Fosbury Flop technique on TV but we had to work a lot in improving him. He had made jumps of 1.40-1.55m in the general category and we made him spend time on vertical jumps on a board apart from standing jumps near the pit box and the high jump area. It helped him master the Fosbury Flop technique and the medal in the Para Nationals in 2017 gave him the belief that he can do more. Once his body balance and technique was fine-tuned, we would make him jump 50-60 jumps four days a week and he showed improvement with medals at World Grand Prix and World Championships,” remembers Ahmad.
Family and coaches behind success
Nishad’s growing prowess and ambition meant his family had to find money to fund his training. “When Nishad told me that he had to train at Panchkula, I told him not to worry about expenses. Sometimes, I would travel to nearby villages or to Punjab for work. Sometimes, I would get daily work at Rs 350-400 for 10-15 days per month and sometimes for 20-25 days per month. Whatever we could save, we saved for his training expenses and would also ask relatives for help apart from taking loan from the village cooperative society,” says Rashpal.
The last one year has seen Nishad training in Bengaluru under Satyanarayan, coach of Rio Paralympics gold medallist Mariyyapan, and Ahmad believes Nishad will only improve further. “His biggest strength has been the ability to do what he visualises in training as well as in competitions. His speed before the jump was excellent and he did not look under pressure. To win a medal with a new Asian record jump speaks of his confidence. He is young and I am sure he can achieve more in the coming years,” shares Ahmad.
At the village, Pushpa and Nishad’s sister Rama Kumari are waiting for his return. “Bahut hi sherdil bachha hai. Jab se wo accident hua hai, usne hi hamein sambhala hai. (He is a lion-hearted kid. Since the accident, he always gave us support). He loves eating his favourite makki ki roti and saag. When he returns, we will welcome him with his favourite food,” said Pushpa.
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