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Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Avani Lekhara looks to follow in the footsteps of idol Abhinav Bindra and win gold at the Tokyo Paralympics

The ace Indian shooter overcame a tragic accident that left her in a wheelchair to become one of the best in the sport despite the odds being stacked against her

Indian para-shooter Avani Lekhara

Ace Indian para-shooter Avani Lekhara (Source: TNIE)


Ananth Narasimman

Updated: 19 Aug 2021 9:31 AM GMT

From a life-threatening accident to becoming a para shooter par excellence, Avani Lekhara has gone through it all and braved the odds to come out on top. "Life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those cards you hold well," reads her Twitter bio, and her story is a testament to the statement.

A horrific car accident she suffered at the age of 11 in 2012 left Avani in a wheelchair due to the severe injuries caused to her spine after the accident. "The car accident in February 2012 completely disrupted my movements and left me wheelchair-bound. It left me powerless," she said during an interview with The Bridge.

The young champ did not let her injuries discourage her and took up shooting after feeling a connection to the sport when her father took her to the shooting range.

With his encouragement and guidance, she took the steps necessary to reach her goals and ambitions. "In 2015, he took me to both shooting and archery ranges, and I tried both, but I felt very connected towards shooting since the first time I held a rifle," said Avani, reports GQ magazine.

However, her path towards success was riddled with obstacles as she had to overcome both physical and mental battles to get to the elite level that she is at the moment. "Initially, it was very difficult. I could not lift a rifle because it was too heavy for me. The accident left me paralysed. I lost my strength. It was tough for me to find a coach. In India, you don't find too many para-coaches. Our techniques are different. Some people believe it is easier for us, but it is not. We are performing equally well in the international circuit. I believe it is harder for us because we have to have mental strength. When you are a para-athlete, people start judging you. To live with a disability is a victory in itself," she said in 2019 when asked about her journey. Her story stands as an inspiration for countless others battling disabilities.

She took inspiration from legendary Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra's book and set her mind on becoming like her idol and winning gold for her country. "The one person I have always looked up to is Abhinav Bindra for obvious reasons. I drew inspiration from his autobiography, amazed at how dedicated he was towards shooting. Then he went on to become the individual Olympic gold medallist, also wanted to do something similar for my country," said Avani when asked about the impact her idol had.

Avani announced herself at the International stage when she won silver at the IPC Para Shooting World Cup in 2017 and added another silver at the 2019 Para Shooting World Cup in Osijek, Croatia.

The pandemic had a major impact on her preparations and training while also affecting her physiotherapy routine. "As someone with a spinal cord disability, I don't have any feeling below my waist. I still need to exercise my legs every day. I used to have a physio who would come to my home daily to help me exercise and stretch my legs. Since then, it's my parents who have to help me with those exercises. They do the best they can. My physiotherapist has to travel from across Jaipur [India] to come to where I stay. It's a long way for her to travel. For shooting training, as I can't do live firing at home, I am doing a lot of dry firing and wall holding which we can do without pellets and ammunition. And these will also build my core muscles," said Avani, reports TOI.

Despite the hurdles posed by the pandemic, Avani had a career year as she bagged eight medals, including six gold at the National Para-shooting championships.

"It was a very nice experience to perform after almost one year. I won six gold and two silver. I took it as a trial match for the upcoming World Cup and gave my best," she said after the Nationals, reports International Paralympic Committee.

She then carried her good form into the Para Shooting World Cup, where she bagged silver after missing out on gold by a whisker. Her opponent was the number one ranked shooter, Ukraine's Iryna Shchetnik. Avani put up a fight and shot an astounding 248.7 in the finals, missing out on the gold with a margin of 0.3.

Avani is all set to follow in the footsteps of her idol after qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics with good prospects of bagging a medal. It will not be too long before we see the TOPS athlete as a regular fixture on the podium.

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