During his early teenage years, he had always evinced a great deal of interest in sports. Then, during a normal game of football on what seemed like an ordinary day in a small village of Gaya district in Bihar, nobody had the slightest idea that his life would change forever. Not all are born great, there are rare few individuals who have sidled up to greatness with hard work and determination. From being confined to a wheelchair since 2011 to becoming the country’s fastest wheelchair half-marathoner, Shailesh Kumar is just beyond an inspirational story.
It suffices to say that only a few could have predicted just how integral he would become to the narrative of marathon events held for the disabled. Only nine years ago, Shailesh, then 18, saw his life being impended after suffering a fall and injuring his spinal cord in the process.
Having been confined to a wheelchair, Shailesh could see his world crashing down around him. To him, the condition was no less than a puzzle that could never be again put back together. Almost a decade later, he is focussed on his strengths and stamina, spewing a spirit that flies high. And that’s how the fervour continues.
Shailesh is a national-level wheelchair basketball player, and have also completed a full marathon on a tricycle peddled by hands alone. Besides being a marathoner and a basketball player, Shailesh works as a physio-coordinator and an inclusion trainer at the Chandigarh Spinal Rehabilitation Centre. “I have always made it a point to never say ‘no’ to anything challenging in life. I guess that has worked for me,” Shailesh said, beaming with pride.
Despite challenges from some that an athletic career would be difficult if not impossible to achieve, he proved to others and to himself that the only limits he faced were those he put upon himself.
He participated in his first full marathon on a government-funded bicycle after three years of spinal cord injury. In 2018, he went on to become the fastest Indian marathoner on a wheelchair to clock timing of 3 hours and 58 minutes.
“I want to show the world that there is nothing that is impossible. Even when you are in a wheelchair, you can play sports and you can even represent your country,” he told The Better India. Shailesh’s journey started off as a puzzle with all its pieces jumbled and disarrayed. But he was destined to be much more than an inspirational story. One by one, he put the pieces together to reveal a masterpiece.
So, what’s next? To be able to participate in Tokyo Paralympics this year. The 26-year-old has managed to accumulate funds to buy his first sports wheelchair, which costs about Rs. 4 lakh.
Although Shailesh’s story is undoubtedly inspiring and one that speaks to overcoming adversity, he doesn’t want it to end with that narrative. He is an athlete, trains like any other athlete, and wants to be known for being excellent at what he does. He doesn’t want his differences from able-bodied athletes to define him, because people like him, as he puts it, are “real heroes in life”.
Remember never to give up on yourself!