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Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Powerlifter Sakina Khatun eyes podium spot at Tokyo Paralympics

A bronze medallist at the 2014 CWG, Sakina Khatun will seek to lift the hopes of a nation at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Powerlitfer Sakina Khatun

Para Olympian Sakina Khatun


Ananth Narasimman

Updated: 14 Aug 2021 5:30 AM GMT

Sakina Khatun created history in 2014 after becoming the only woman para-athlete to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games. Diagnosed with polio at a very young age, Khatun had to fight through innumerable battles to survive, let alone thrive. She had to undergo four surgeries to survive due to her condition. The doctors then suggested that she take up swimming as a way to recover from the gruelling medical procedures that left her muscles weak.

"Swimming definitely turned out to be an amazing experience for me. But I could not make it through either competitions or national-level championships. Then, I happened to meet Farman Basha, one of the most renowned powerlifters of India. He put the thought of powerlifting in my head," said Sakina in an interview with YourStory.

Thus started a tale of determination and persistence that she carried on from her life experiences to sports. Despite the various obstacles and challenges placed in front of her due to her physical limitations, she pushed her body to its limits, breaking boundaries and barriers for countless other future para-athletes in the process.

"Right from fighting muscle pain and fatigue, training with weights and dumbbells every day to overcome a lot of financial distress, my journey was fraught with multiple challenges. But I knew it was important for me to not give up at any point. After all, no aspiration is worth renouncing," said Sakina, reports YourStory.

Her chance meeting with legendary powerlifter Farman Pasha set her on the way to gaining glory for her country as the coach recognized the immense talent in his protege and began honing it. Her workouts were gruelling despite her fragile health condition, proving that anything was possible and that you could push your body to its limits if you set your mind to it. Hailing from a rural background, Sakina Khatun's family did not have the necessary resources to support her dreams, and a lack of government support also became a huge obstacle. Irrespective of these challenges, she managed to shine at most competitions that she went to based on pure skill and determination.

The lack of funding even hurt her Tokyo Paralympics preparations as she lobbied with the SAI and government to help her with the funds she needed by placing her in the TOPS programme. This situation was not the only incident where she had to take up her cause and fight her battle against the authorities. Her exclusion from the Gold Coast CWG games in 2018 caused a massive stir and had to federations blaming each other for the incident when the only one who suffered, in the end, was her. Sakina looked to avoid a repeat of this mess and wrote to the SAI to have her name instated into the TOPS programme.

"I hail from a poor family and am currently unemployed. I have always strived to perform my best despite all these hardships. At present, I am facing a severe financial crunch which is affecting my training for Tokyo Paralympics. Considering my achievements, I kindly request you to include my name in the TOPS," Sakina wrote in her letter to SAI, reports The Times of India.

"I am continuing my hard work to win the medal at the Tokyo Paralympics. I request your kind self to provide me with a suitable job in SAI for my survival and to support my family financially," she added.

SAI later came out with a statement to address the situation, "Sakina's performance was reviewed by the Mission Olympic Cell (MOC), where she currently stands sixth (fifth as per the latest rankings) in the Tokyo 2020 qualification rankings for powerlifting with the best lift of 86kg in the under 45kg weight category for women. The minimum medal range in her event is around 94kg. It was deemed by the MOC that she didn't meet the medal criteria for TOPS presently in her event and was therefore not included in TOPS," reports TOI.

Sakina replied to that statement by questioning the SAI by asking, "Are all 130 athletes covered under the TOPS going to win medals? If this scheme is supporting them in their training, why deny me?

The pandemic posed its own set of problems for the para-athlete, as she struggled to find the right resources and training facilities to help her remain in peak condition before the start of the Tokyo Paralympics.

"It's getting difficult to continue training at home as I'm able to lift a maximum of 70kg and that too with great difficulty. While in SAI, I used to lift till 90-100kg," Sakina told TOI. "I've written to the SAI officials to give us permission to return to the campus, and I'm waiting for their reply," said Sakina Khatun, reports TOI. "Just before the lockdown, SAI authorities asked us to move into the campus. But during that time, I slipped and fell, and we had to delay our plans to get into SAI. We are now waiting for the green signal from the officials to return. Till then, we will continue to train with limited resources. We are literally quarantined at home now as we don't go out at all. One boy brings us all the essential items," she added.

Despite the odds being stacked against her, she managed to qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics after being handed the bipartite quota along with Jaideep Deswal.

"It's a dream come true to qualify for the Paralympics. I have been working hard for the last two years. Now that the qualification has come, I will give my best to win a medal at the Games," said an elated Sakina Khatun, reports TNIE.

Her never give up attitude and persistence in the face of difficulty proves to be a massive lesson for each and every one of us to learn. Her determination and passion for her country are sure to help her reach the Paralympics podium sooner than later.

"My dream is to win as many medals as possible for India. I want to keep going and stop at nothing until I achieve this," Sakina says, reports YourStory.

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