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Para Sports

Deepthi Jeevanji: An unfathomable phenom

The 20-year old sensation is now a headline act in the para athletics world.

Deepthi Jeevanji: An unfathomable phenom
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Deepthi Jeevanji will head to the 2024 Paralympics as a World Record holder and perhaps a gold medal favourite (Photo credit: Toru Hanai/Getty Images) 

By

Rahul Kargal

Published: 22 May 2024 9:42 AM GMT

On a bright and sunny Monday at Kyoto, a young Indian woman held off competition to bag the country's first ever gold medal at a World Championships track and field event.

Swinging her biceps for acceleration and using every sinew of her sculpted body, Deepthi Jeevanji left her opposition in a heap en route to a stunning World Record in the 400m T20 category race at the 2024 World Para Athletics Championships.

But why was a seemingly able-bodied athlete competing at a Para-athletics event? To answer the question, we need to look at her past.

Who is Deepthi Jeevanji?

Born on 27 September, 2003 in Telangana's remote Kalleda village in Warangal district, Jeevanji's was born in a family of daily-wage farm labourers. Her parents' consanguineous marriage contributed to young Jeevanji displaying an intellect that appeared below-par when compared to peers.

Also, with visibly unusual facial features, Jeevanji was subject to taunts and ridicule as a child.

Children in her village called her 'kothi' or monkey. The bullying aside, her parents were even asked to send the child away to an orphanage. "Who will marry your daughter," they were often told.

But her parents stood by their beloved daughter.

Early signs

It was in high-school that Jeevanji began to display signs of athletic ability, beating able-bodied competitors in school races. This caught the eye of her PE teacher and shortly thereafter, coach N. Ramesh took her under his wings.

As Jeevanji began excelling, news of her capabilities reached Pullela Gopichand.

At the badminton stalwart's recommendation, the prodigy underwent tests at the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Intellectual Disability in Hyderabad. It was here that Jeevanji was certified as intellectually impaired.

While this could have meant devastating news for most, for the then teenager, the impairment meant that she could now compete as a para-athlete - in the T20 category meant for intellectually challenged athletes.

A star is born

Support from the Gopichand-Mytrah Foundation meant that Jeevanji began training full-time.

Regional and national success followed soon thereafter, and in 2022, the teenager donned India colours at Hangzhou Asian Para Games.

Once there, Jeevanji didn't just participate, she set a new Asian Para record and the Games record in her 400m T20 category-event clocking 56.69s to win gold.

And going into the 2024 World Para Athletics Championships at Kobe, Japan, Jeevanji was confident. She started the final well and broke into an early lead in the first 200 meters. In the final stretch though, Turkey's Aysel Onder threatened to catch up but Jeevanji wasn't having any of that.

After years of ridicule, and withstanding taunts from peers, 20-year old Jeevanji will now head to the 2024 Paralympics as a World Record holder and one of the favourites to win gold.

Deepthi Jeevanji is now writing her own script. In a world where cynicism runs riot and detractors outnumber the rest, her exploits on the track are a reminder that with resolve, and a little helping hand, the seemingly impossible could become an unfathomable reality.

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