"Wanted to do India proud in a difficult sport": World Record holder para-athlete Yogesh Kathuniya
Paralympics silver medallist and World Record holder Yogesh Kathuniya was sure of making history when he threw the discus to 48.34m last month - but now the Indian para-athlete is hungry to cross the 50m mark.
In the early hours of an August morning in 2021, somewhere in Bahadurgarh in Haryana's Jhajjar, a whole village crowded around a television, watching with impatient eyes and biting nails as Yogesh Kathuniya hurled the discus to a distance of 44.38m at the Tokyo Paralympics to clinch a rare silver in the F56 event.
And with that history was made. The whole village erupted in joy seeing one of their very own go out there and do the impossible. Remembering that day still gives goosebumps to the 25-year-old Paralympics silver medallist.
"I had a bronze from the World Championships in 2019 as well but the Paralympics silver was a different high," Yogesh, who recently smashed the world record twice at the Indian Open National Para Athletics Championships, improving on his then personal best (45.58m) by a whopping 2.76m too, told The Bridge.
"Wherever I went, there was a lot of recognition. People were coming to support me, and the government and sponsors also helped me greatly," the Arjuna awardee said.
A lot has changed for Yogesh since the Paralympics silver but the hunger for winning and being the first Indian to excel in discus on a global stage has only intensified.
Eyes on crossing the 50m mark
At the Indian Open National Para Athletics Championships in August, Yogesh wrote his name into history books when he created the world record twice in a short span.
Yogesh's year wasn't going particularly great before that day. The Nationals in March had seen a best effort of 44.15m and the USA Grand Prix, where he won gold, saw him hurl the discus to 44.28m.
"Although I won gold at the USA Grand Prix, I wasn't satisfied with my result," the B.Com student said. The yearning to break the world record was intense for him.
Going into the Indian Open National Para Athletics Championships in Bengaluru's Sri Kanteerava stadium, Yogesh knew his time had come.
"Jaane se pehle, mein ne bola tha ke mein issbar 101% World Record maar ke aaunga zaroor!", he said with a laugh.
"In my first throw, I hurled the discus to a distance of 46.49m...which was my personal best. That's when I understood aaj badhiya din hai, aaj mast hoga," he said.
Soon, with the second throw going 48.03m, he broke the world record. Soon, with his fifth throw, Yogesh had thrown the discus to a distance of 48.34m to set a new world record.
"I had taken up discus because it seemed like a difficult sport and I always wanted to be the first one to do well. Now my eyes are set on breaking the 50m barrier - a feat nobody in the world of para sports has done before," said the committed Yogesh.
Time, effort and sacrifices - recipe to excel
But Yogesh's life hasn't been easy. From a paralytic attack at the age of eight that made him a temporary wheelchair user to being diagnosed with quadriparesis - a neurological syndrome characterised by severe weakness and loss of function in all four limbs - it has taken a lot of effort and sacrifice from both him and his family to see this day.
Hailing from an academics-obsessed family - an Army man father, a homemaker mother and a big sister who teaches at a government school, Yogesh's success is not only on the track but off it as well.
"My family has started taking up sports, all the young kids are playing now after seeing me as an example. I'm glad they are understanding that only studies can't be a career option, sports can also be one," Yogesh said.
His tryst with sports began only in 2017 when he was in college. He stumbled upon the discus and started doing well in it.
Since then it's been a long while doing the country proud with his exploits. A bronze from the World Championships to silver from the Paralympics and now the hunger for gold from the upcoming World Championships, Asian Games and eventually the Paris Paralympics figure very much on his wish list.
The motivation to continue has also never wavered, although Yogesh has had to stay away from his family for long spans, not eat the food he loves, miss family events and dedicate all of his time to training and travel.
"I would watch motivational videos initially but I have stopped now. Now it has become a habit, I know if I train, I can keep myself motivated," he explained.
"I have my own academy, Yogesh Throwing Academy in Naraingarh and I have my kids there and we train and play together and that helps me stay motivated as well," he added.
Never taking his disability as a challenge but rather using his sport to propel him towards success, Yogesh has turned out to be an inspiration himself - not just personally but also to others, who he has shown that sports can also be a career choice, provided you train hard for it.
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