Rajkot-based Girish Sharma is an embodiment of great willpower and persistence. At 30, the para-badminton player is defying age and his physical challenges to enter the top-10 ranking of para-shuttlers; his sole motivation being representing India at the 2020 Paralympics.
Girish, who lost his one leg in a train accident at the tender age of two, has an inspiring story to share, which you may not find on billboards or in colourful newspaper prints like the other celebrated athletes of India.
His reason for taking up badminton is an outcome of his extraordinary passion for the country.
“From my childhood, I had a dream to see the word ‘India’ written on my shirt. I wished to join the army someday but found out that circumstances would never let me be so. In 2002, I developed an interest in badminton.”
“I could hop all across the court with my one leg and showed good coordination to smash the shuttlecock across the court. Thus began my journey of becoming a badminton player,” says Girish to The Bridge.
He spent his childhood days in the railway quarters of Rajkot, where he honed his skills with the help of his friends in school and even his teachers who always motivated him to pursue greater dreams. During his teenage years, Girish took up badminton and soon his talent was blossoming and there has been no looking back since.
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In 2007, with the spirit of making it big, Girish moved to Thane to join the Syed Modi Badminton Academy of the Thane Municipal Corporation located at Dadoji Konddev Stadium. It turned to be a significant year in his life, in which he bagged national tournament in Odisha and also went to represent India in his first international tournament in Jerusalem.
The 2008 Para-Asian Games and the making of a Champion
2008 was the defining year for Girish when he won two gold medals – single and doubles – at the Para Asian Games which was held in Bangalore, India. Such a feat also earned Girish world ranking of 2 among the para-shuttlers.
He also went on to participate in the 2009 world championship in Germany. Just when things were looking brighter for Girish, he was subjected to Government neglect which took a toll on his funding.
Girish said, “After my participation in the 2009 World Championships, I thought I will receive the required funding from the government, but nobody came forward to assist me financially.”
“Despite showing my medals and the laurels I received, the officials asked for my certificates, which is rarely provided at an international level. During the 2011 Para-Badminton World Championship in Guatemala City, the Badminton Association of India wanted me to arrange my own funds.”
The sad state of Indian para-sports
It was, however, by the help of his father’s job in the Railways that helped him secure some of the funding to participate in the tournaments. Girish, who is been playing wheelchair badminton since 2015 owing to the World Badminton Federation’s (BWF) new rule, expresses his disappointment how the apathy among the authority is hampering the sports culture of India, particularly to those of the para-athletes.
“As a wheelchair-bound badminton player, we require wooden courts to practice our game, but neither we are provided with any dedicated wooden court nor the desired wheelchair to train ourselves,” says Girish. He also mentions, how he has to travel from one place to another in the quest of a court which would allow them to practice.
Girish, credits his parents for giving him the mental motivation to be stern and fight all challenges with bravado, “Funding has always been a concern for me, I had to miss out on at least 16-17 tournaments owing to fund crunches, but my parents stood beside me to give me confidence and never lose my hopes,” says Girish.
Today, Girish is a part of the Aditya Mehta foundation in Bengaluru, where he trains physically challenged army veterans to regain their confidence through sports. The foundation today takes care of Girish’s expenses and tries to gain sponsors for the tournaments he plays.
After staying out of the sports since 2016, owing to a severe injury, Girish returned to the court in April 2018, to participate in the Faza Dubai International Para-Badminton Championship in wheelchair 2 category. It was an impressive come back for Girish where he clinched the Bronze medal.
Currently ranked 26 among the para-shuttlers, Girish gears up for the World Championships to be held in Thailand in July. Girish, who draws his inspiration from the legendary shuttler Lin Dan, believes his ultimate challenge will be to represent the country in the 2020 Paralympics.
There are many athletes in India like Girish who are striving to excel in their game but often they are met with disappointment owing to government’s apathy.