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Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Paralympic medal that wasn’t still torments Vinod Kumar’s family

Vinod Kumar set a career-best attempt of 19.91m to help earn him a discus throw bronze in the F52 category in Tokyo Paralympics but later, a classification review found him to be ineligible.

Written by Andrew Amsan | New Delhi |
Updated: September 18, 2021 9:29:51 pm
Vinod Kumar got married to Anita in 2010.

It’s been over a week since Vinod Kumar lost his Paralympic discus throw (F52) bronze but his daughter still believes her father is a Paralympic medallist. Sakshi, 7, watched her father finish third on the live stream but isn’t aware yet of the fiasco that followed.

“She still thinks her father got home a medal from Tokyo,” says Anita, Vinod’s wife.

There’s no mistaking the air of grief and anguish at the rented accommodation in Rohtak the Kumar’s call home. They’ve gone through an emotional roller-coaster these past few weeks. First, there was the joy of the 41-year-old setting a career-best attempt of 19.91m to earn him bronze in the F52 classification of the men’s discus event in Tokyo. But the result was put on hold for a classification review. And after the assessment the following morning, the panel found him ineligible for the F52 category.

“We had already distributed sweets to our neighbours and were celebrating his win,” Anita recalls. “We thought our life would change after the medal but later that night my husband called me to and said the results were put on hold.”

Vinod’s call came as their home was swarming with celebrating friends and relatives. They muted the festivities, but still remained hopeful. But the next day, Vinod, in tears, called Anita to inform her that he would not return with a medal.

“No matter how tough you are at the end of the day, you are human. I am still shattered,” says Vinod.

The moment the initial results came out, Vinod thought his life would take a turn for good.

“I thought I would finally be able to buy a house for my children. I thought my loan installments would be sorted and I could also return the money I have borrowed from my sister,” he adds.

He claims the loans, including interest, amount to around Rs 10 lakh. The small grocery store they ran near the Rohtak stadium too has been vacated and the family currently has no source of income.

“I don’t want to sit and think all day about the medal that slipped from my hands, but I want to train for Paris. I desperately need some support or else I would be forced to quit sports. Right now, it’s a struggle to even take care of my family’s expenses. How will I be able to compete when I have no source of income?” says Vinod.

In 2002, while training with the Border Security Force in Leh, he fell off a cliff. He required major surgery to both legs and remained bedridden for almost a decade.

“After my father’s demise, the family’s responsibilities grew on me. I knew I had to do something. I pushed myself during my physiotherapy sessions and slowly developed some strength in my upper body,” he says.

In 2010, he got married to Anita who has been his cornerstone ever since. “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to become a professional athlete,” says Vinod.

The Rohtak resident’s foray into athletics though was quite recent. It was only after he came across a newspaper article about Rio Paralympic silver medallist Deepa Malik in 2016 that the family was introduced to the world of para-sports.

“We had no clue that differently-abled people could take part in sports,” says Vinod.

He wanted to know more about para-sports and running a small store near Rohtak’s Rajiv Gandhi Stadium helped his case.

Archery coach Sanjay Suhag, who used to frequent his store guided him through the process initially. Vinod started training for discus at the stadium and would later rush to the store so his wife Anita could get a little break. The regimen continued until last year when travelled to Bangalore for treatment.

He was twice infected with Covid-19 and briefly lost his voice after his first bout with the virus.

“It was not easy to come back and resume training after Covid. I have worked really hard in the run-up to Tokyo but unfortunately, this issue happened. But I don’t live in the past. I never have,” Vinod concludes.

Now he looks towards Paris 2024.

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