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From National Champions and Youth Olympians, Kerala-based athletics club now gives us a Special Olympics medalist

From National Champions and Youth Olympians, Kerala-based athletics club now gives us a Special Olympics medalist

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Published: 22 March 2019 9:49 AM GMT
The state of Kerala has a long-standing relationship with the culture of athletics. And a testament to this is the fact that 8 out of India's 19 medals at the Asian Games came from Kerala’s athletes. In that bustling state with the highest literacy rates in the country, there exists a remote village named Kuthanur, Palakkad which has produced an unlikely hero- R Gokul, a 21-year old Special athlete who won two Silver medals at the recently concluded World Games in Abu Dhabi which saw the Indian contingent bag a historic haul of 368 medals. He participated and finished second in the 4x100m Relay event and Long Jump in addition to a fourth-place finish in the 100m sprint event.
To say that Gokul comes from a troubled background would be an understatement. His father, Sri. Rajan is physically challenged and earns a measly income as a tailor. His mother Smt. Bhagyawati is a daily wage labourer. For his part, Gokul is the current National champion among special-ability sprinters and his career best is a whopping 11.4 seconds in the 100m discipline.

So, what made this rise possible?

The answer lies in the fact that a few people came together to ensure a wholesome atmosphere in this small place to ensure that special-needs kids are not held back. The Tejus Charitable Trust at Palakkad started in 2003 and was an initiative by three locals who came together to provide a sort of day-care centre for kids with special needs. The idea was that, once people realised that the village's workforce was dealt with a blow because parents stayed at home to take care of their children, personal funds and family lands were used to set this NGO up. "Tejus started out in a small way but soon the demand increased as more and more people started reaching out for help,"
recalls Seema Mennon, daughter of one of the patrons of the NGO, to The Bridge. "A school was soon set up, the teachers picked and trained from the community itself and there, these children learn how to navigate the daily chores of life- how to eat, sit, use the toilet...the necessities." "The treasurer of the centre, Ullas, saw Gokul chasing a dog one day during his time at Tejus," continues Seema. "Being from limited means, he spent a lot of his time at Tejus and it was just a discovery that happened by chance." "Ullas realised the potential of this child and immediately went about doing something about it,"
she continues. Ullas has, presently, travelled to Abu Dhabi with his ward. "Tejus took care of his diet and training which, given their background, their family was unable to do. Their parents can barely make ends meet. He needed to be taken to town where he trained at the Olympic Athletic Club in Palakkad. It is some 15kms from Kuthanur and Ullas travelled with him, often waking up at 5.30. This schedule went on for years." The Olympic Athletic Club in Palakkad definitely has some claim to fame in the last few years. It's the club that National High Jump Champion M Sreeshankar trained with his father at. More recently, it was Youth Olympic athlete
who made the Club famous. She had qualified for the Buenos Aires Youth Olympics in the 400m hurdles event after she clocked an impressive 1:00.95 in the Asian Qualifying meet. Her coach, C Haridas, a hurdler, a SAF medalist, former national champion and an athlete of repute in the 1980s, also trained Gokul since he was 10. Youth Olympic athlete Vishnupriya is another product of the Olympic Athletes Club in Palakkad. (Image: TOI) "We use the grounds at the town's Medical College to practice," C Haridas tells The Bridge. "Our club currently has 100 members practising here which include special needs children and deaf and dumb athletes. Gokul won two Silver medals and registered a fourth-place finish. His training over the years has been the same as able-bodied athletes. He never worked less despite being an intellectually-disabled athlete."
"If someone asks me to chalk out how much he has improved since he first came here, I would say the number is close to 100%," Haridas continues. "He is quick to learn and work hard- he works harder than most other people to overcome all his other limitations. His brain is active and improving every day." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2f3ZEaCAIU The medalists from Special Olympics are filled with such stories of grit and determination. In addition to beating their social limitations, these athletes have also risen above stigma, intellectual disabilities and a lifetime of having to navigate through the daily routines with more effort than most of us. Gokul's story is just one among them. More people Mr C Haridas and organisations like Tejus Charitable Trust must be given credit as their work proves that the culture of sports knows no physical or economic boundaries. "Sport for all" is a motto they live by.
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