The current world number 1 para-badminton player in the SL-3 Classification and the former Asian and World Championship gold medalist, Manoj Sarkar, has made the country proud yet again by claiming the bronze at the Tokyo Paralympics.
The young star from Uttarakhand came from humble beginnings and had to strive harder than most to propel him towards achieving his goals. The never say die attitude and the unreal willpower to overcome any obstacle thrown his way was something he built on from his experiences as a child and as an adult. He carried the same mentality onto the court as he stormed his way past his opponent irrespective of how experienced or how good they were.
Manoj started his badminton
career competing with able-bodied players before being introduced to para-badminton by legendary coach DK Sen, who encouraged him to take up the sport, and he has never looked back after that while firmly establishing himself as one of the best in the game.
"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. 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," he says in an interview with The Bridge while talking about his foray into para-badminton.
His journey had its ups and downs, but the immense support of his mother, who, despite having cancer, placed confidence in her son's abilities and put up her house for a mortgage to help support his dreams.
"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 Go Sports 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," says an emotional Manoj while talking about his difficult journey to the top and his mother's immense support.
The sacrifices paid off as the Asian Championship and World Championship gold medalist, has now become a bronze medalist in para-badminton's first-ever introduction to the Paralympics.