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Player's Speak

The Paralympics is all about giving my best | By Manoj Sarkar

Para-shuttler Manoj Sarkar shares his journey from competing in able-bodied sports to qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics.

Indian Para Athlete Manoj Sarkar

Manoj Sarkar


Manoj Sarkar

Updated: 1 Sep 2021 7:39 AM GMT

I have been playing badminton all my life. Not para-badminton per se, but the able-bodied sport. Yes, I was left disabled when I was just one year old, but then growing up, I had no idea about para-sports.

How I caught the badminton fever?

I used to stay in a joint family then and had three cousins of almost similar to my age. Once, someone bought badminton racquets for them, but not for me. I felt very bad and cried a lot. My mother felt bad and gave me 10 rupees, using which I bought a small secondhand racquet for myself.

That is how it all started. Once I bought that racquet, I was determined that I have to play well. Even if I do not play well, I wanted to defeat my cousins badly.

I soon started playing in able-bodied tournaments and started playing well at the junior level. We did not have much money then, so all of us used to chip in money to buy shuttles.

The rule we had then was whoever wins keeps on playing, and since I used to win a lot, I used to keep playing. It reached a point where they stopped letting me play because I would not lose. I soon started playing in the seniors, against 22-23-year-old players when I was just 12.

But, money was always hard to come by. Once, an army man saw me and asked for a favour. There was some work going on at his house, and he asked if I could help him out with something.

I did, and he gave me 50 rupees. It was a big thing for me as I not only earned 50 rupees within a couple of hours but also bought a better racquet with the money I had earned.

When I was in 11th grade in the year 2008, I saw two people walking with their racquets from my classroom. I got up and ran towards them without asking any permission from the teacher; they told me they are going to play badminton in their PT class as there was a school selection coming soon. I told them I wanted to play and they said agreed.

But when I went there, I realised the teacher who was coaching did not have any knowledge of the sport. I helped them make a proper court and taught them how to play. The next day when the selection happened, there were more than 20 kids competing, and as I won two or three matches comfortably, I was drafted into the team.

I saw an indoor badminton court for the first time while I was playing in a district tournament. I was so fascinated that I did not leave the court that day and did not have food due to the happiness!

I was selected to play at the state level, where I lost. This was when I started playing the sport seriously. I played in another state-level tournament where I lost in the quarterfinals.

By this time, I had reached college and was playing for the University. This was when I travelled to Almora to play a tournament, where I met DK Sen sir. He is the coach of the able-bodied youngster Lakshya Sen.

I was playing the quarterfinal against one of his students in the quarterfinal, and I lost in the third set. He approached me then and told me if I play in para-badminton instead of able-bodied, you might represent India.

Mind you; I had no idea about para-badminton. DK Sen sir explained everything, and I thought he is just exaggerating. But, for some reason, I liked it, and it stuck with me.

Sen sir put me in touch with the current national para-badminton coach Gaurav Khanna sir. He was not a para-badminton coach then; he was with the deaf team. But, he helped me with every detail and encouraged me to try out para-badminton.

I contacted the national badminton federation for the first time in 2011. They responded three months later, saying there is a para-badminton national happening in Bangalore. I was the second para-badminton player from Uttarakhand, and I went to Bangalore with the sole intention of learning how things work in para-badminton.

The rules were a bit difficult to understand at first, but I had the advantage of having played with the able-bodied players for a long and I returned with two gold medals.

I was selected for the World Championships after this performance, but we could not go as we did not have sponsors.

Then in 2012, I went with my own money. My mother put our house on a mortgage so that I could follow my dream, even though she was a cancer patient. The Gosports Foundation helped me out as well then; I am still grateful to them and am proud that I am still associated with them.

This is how my journey in international para-badminton started, and I have won around 47 medals now at the highest level. It has been a long journey, and now I am part of the first-ever Paralympics badminton contingent from India.

The Paralympics, I feel, about giving your best, without focusing much on the result. I am fortunate enough to be representing my country at the biggest of all stages.

To be frank, I am consciously trying to be away from all the negativity. There was a time in life when I used to take advice about my game from anyone and everyone; I have stopped doing that now. It was too much to take, and my game was not improving even a bit.

Why and how I decided to weed out negativity? Due to a young child whom I coach.

After we returned from Dubai in April this year, I was very disappointed. This is when this young kid came up to me and said, "Sir, you have won medals prior to this at the international level and have defeated the best in the world. Just do not listen to everything everyone says."

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