Sidra Muskan, the 19-year-old athlete has a dream of making a giant leap at the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games in long jump. Nidhi Mishra, at 28, is already an established athlete with a bronze at the 2018 Asian Para Games and is confident of a podium finish in discus throw at the quadrennial games. So what if Muskan and Mishra are visually challenged. It does not stop them from dreaming big.
The two Delhi para athletes, while standing poles apart on the athletics firmament, epitomise the undying spirit with which they are pursuing their goal of ultimate glory in sport. Not just these two para athletes but more than 650 visually-challenged sportsperson gathered at the Thyagaraj Stadium for the three-day National Athletics Championship for the Blind have a common goal -- to bring glory to the nation.
Sidra's parents realised that their daughter was going blind when she was eight years old. Her father, a driver, tried everything within his means to get good treatment but the congenital disease left Sidra with only 30 per cent vision. "Four of us (they are five siblings) have this disorder and have just 30 per cent vision left," says Sidra, who has a long jump silver and a 1500m bronze in the 2021 PCI National Championships and a 400m bronze in the 2022 edition.
Her next target is to qualify for the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou and then push for her inclusion in the contingent for the Paris Games. "Neeraj Chopra's (Tokyo Olympic Games gold medallist in javelin) performance has given me a lot of hope and confidence that I too can qualify in long jump and win the ultimate medal," said Sidra, a B.El.Ed (elementary education) student from Lady Shri Ram College, competing in the T12 category (athletes with 30 per cent vision).
While she requires a guide to assist her in the track events, she has to rely on her instincts and a "jump" call from a line official in long jump. "The track events are easy as I have a guide, but in my favourite event, long jump, I am all alone. As I approach the line, the line judge calls out "jump" and I take the leap," says Sidra.
Another giant leap of faith helped Nidhi clinch bronze at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Para Games, and that has given her the confidence to aim for the podium at 2024 Paris. Coming from a family where studies were "never to be compromised", she saw sports as something of a "complementary thing" to bust stress.
Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of nine, the progressive disorder left her completely blind. "I could see when I was young. Maybe when I was 8-9, I started losing eyesight. I wasn't put in any mainstream school," said Nidhi, who obtained his doctorate in history and is a lecturer.
"I have already qualified in three events for the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou in shot put, discus and 100m and I thank my family for what I am today," said Nidhi, who said her competition will be against only the Chinese in Hangzhou next year. "Then it will be Paris 2024, which I am eagerly looking forward to," said Nidhi, the winner of more than 100 national and international medals.
The athletes will compete in 59 events, including 28 for women, during the National Championship, which began on Wednesday. Komal Mehra, head, Sports Initiatives and Associations, Usha International, said her organisation's aim is to help and support para athletes like Nidhi and Sidra in pursuing their dreams through the association with the Indian Blind Sports Association (IBSA).
"Being the title sponsors, we help them (IBSA) by arranging stadiums and also provide every possible support and publicity on digital and social media so that the problems and successes of the visually-challenged athletes can be highlighted for their betterment."