I started my journey as a person with a disability in 2003. One fine day, when I was travelling to my coaching class, I met with a road accident. It was a pretty horrid experience for me in which I sustained a spinal cord injury at the cervical level. Since then, I have had complete paralysis of my lower limbs and partial paralysis of my upper limbs. It's been almost 18 years now since I have been using a wheelchair.
I was 18 back then. I spent nine months in the hospital after I underwent three surgeries. I was in Delhi
hospital and after my rehabilitation was completed, I came back to Hisar, my home town and decided to pursue my studies. I completed my bachelor's and master's degree in English literature and later on, another bachelor's degree in education from Kurukshetra University and the Government College in Hisar, respectively.
Education played a crucial role in my life. I was very clueless at one point in time thinking about what would be my future. I wanted to be financially independent and live on my own terms. Enrolling in college, lifted my confidence. In 2013, I cracked the Haryana Civil Services examination, which was a life-changing experience for me. I could feel a huge change in society towards me and my disability
. It was quite a big moment for me. My interviews started getting published in newspapers and people recognised me on social media. I joined as an Assistant Employment Officer
with the Haryana government in Hisar. The news reached Arjuna-awardee Paralympian Amit Kumar Saroha, who was soon to be my coach and mentor. It was he who contacted me and asked if I wished to join para-sports. I showed my enthusiasm and thought of taking the plunge with the help of my parents' support.
Ekta Bhyan at the 2019 World Para-athletics Championships where she won berth for Tokyo Paralympics
I had never pursued any sports in my life and didn't have any idea that one could play para-sports with a severe disability level. It was coach Saroha who introduced me to club throw, the only para-sports I could pursue with severe disability in both lower and upper limbs. After taking up the sport, I gradually developed my interest in it. The progress happened quite soon as in 2016, I participated in my first national tournament, and in the same year, I clinched the silver medal at the Athletics Grand Prix in Berlin. In 2017, I qualified for World Para Athletics championship, 2017 in London.
2018 was the breakthrough moment of my career when I won the gold medal at the Asian Para Games in the women's club throw event with a throw of 16.02 metres. For the last five years, I am ranked number one in club throw in Asia. In 2019, I took part in the World Para-athletics Championships where I earned the berth for Tokyo Paralympics. Initially, it was difficult to manage my job as well as sports but my department helped me and encouraged me to pursue it. At times, it is quite challenging. Because when I am studying or working in the office, I do it with little assistance. But while pursuing the sport, I always need the assistance of at least two people, be it competing on the ground or doing my exercises, or while travelling. So always requiring the assistance of two persons is challenging, and financially demanding, too.
Ekta, after winning the gold medal at the Asian Para-games in 2018
On weekdays, I mostly train in the office ground after work, and on weekends I try to go to Sonipat in Delhi to train in the morning and the evening. At times, it gets pretty hectic but I have to maintain my form. My parents have been my biggest motivators and support system. If you are having a disability, everyone might give you mental support. But for an athlete, who always has to take up physical challenges, you will need continuous assistance. And this is the reason why there are so many people in our country, they are unable to pursue their education or employment, even they cannot get into the sports because infrastructure is not disabled-friendly or public transportation is not disabled-friendly. So you need a lot of family support.
We were just six months away from the Paralympics and everything was shut. It was very disappointing, during the pandemic but I went with the flow and tried to control things that are in my hands. I started training at my home doing exercises. I also indulged in writing poems and drawing. With the relaxation in the lockdown, I am waking up in the morning to do a two-hour muscle powering exercise. In the evening, I got to the ground to practice for a good three-hour time. I am quite optimistic about winning a gold medal in the Paralympics this year and I know I have improved my performance during this one-year break.
A poem written by Ekta during the lockdown
I, as a member of the para-athlete fraternity, had denounced the Haryana government's new sports policy, which stated, if able-bodied athletes win a gold medal at Asian Games and Olympics, they will get a Class I level job, while para-athletes who bag gold at Paralympics or Para Asian Games will have to settle for Class II level jobs. It was discriminatory in every sense, So I along with other differently-abled sportspersons met the state's sports minister Sandeep Singh. We fought for the cause and I am glad the government has listened to us and will treat para-athletes and able-bodied athletes at par in the sports policy.
Life has not been an easy journey but with the help and support of people, we can do anything. And I sincerely hope this support that will lead me to win the gold at the Paralympics later this year.