Para Canoe has been included for the first time in the Asian Para Games 2023 and India finished the event with four medals including one gold, one silver, and two bronze.
Three medals out of the four were won by Prachi Yadav and Manish Kaurav who have the rare distinction of winning medals at the Asian Para Games as a couple.
Prachi won the historic first-ever gold medal in Para Canoe in the KL2 event after winning the silver medal in the VL2 event on the opening day of the continental showpiece. Manish complimented with a bronze medal in the men's KL3 event.
Prachi competes in KL2/VL2 events which are for athletes who propel themselves with their arms and partial trunk and leg function while Manish competes in KL3/VL3 events which are for athletes who have full function of their arms and trunk, and partial function in the legs.
From Para Swimming to Para Canoe
Both Prachi and Manish endured disabilities early in their lives as Pooja suffered paralysis below her waist while Manish was born with a locomotive disability.
Prachi and Manish started as para swimmers early in their lives as a therapy for their bodies.
Prachi started swimming at the age of 12 and took a deep interest in the sport winning the gold medal in the national championship. Although, she had to wait eight years to return to the sport due to personal reasons.
She returned to swimming in 2015 when her coach V.K. Dabas suggested she shift to Para Canoe and go to Bhopal to train under Mayank Thakur. Prachi shifted to Bhopal to train at the MP Water Sports Academy where she met Manish.
Meanwhile, Manish started swimming at the age of nine as Aqua therapy for his body. He also moved to MP Water Sports Academy to train for Para Canoeing.
They married three years ago and have won as a couple at the Asian level before. They won three gold medals during the Asian Canoe Championships in Samarkand, Uzbekistan in April this year.
Trailblazers in their own right
The couple from Madhya Pradesh is an inspiration for para-athletes across the country with Manish taking inspiration from his wife, who has also participated in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
"I was a little nervous but Prachi told me that we won't go empty-handed from here," Manish said after his bronze medal win.
"Otherwise also, she inspires me. I always think that if she can achieve success, why shouldn't I? She is the reason for my medal," he added further.
The couple has not only battled their disability but also financial issues and resource issues to reach the podium at the Asian Para Games. With Para Canoe being a new sport in the country, there was no boat available.
Prachi's coach Mayank Thakur then built a 'jugaad' (makeshift) boat for her by attaching an oil drum to the normal canoe boat to balance it while on water.
As the boats for canoeing are expensive, Thakur built a boat by fixing an oil can on one side of the boat using a pair of bamboo poles to balance the boat while on water
Prachi took part in the Tokyo Paralympics and reached the final round where she finished eighth and last. She has already qualified for the Paris Paralympics.
Her performance got her some sponsors and she has been training with the modern para canoe boats bought from abroad.
"I could not do well in the finals in Tokyo but I am hoping to improve myself in Paris next year. I have to plan my training and competition schedule for Paris Paralympics. For me also, foreign training is something I want," Prachi said.
With the Paralympics less than a year away, the performance at the Asian Para Games displays the capabilities of Prachi and Manish.
"At the biggest competition of the continent, we have realised our dream and our eyes set on the Paralympics," signed off Prachi, who would surely want to become the first Indian to win a Paralympic medal in Para Canoe.