Sharad Kumar has had a rollercoaster journey with plenty of highs and lows. The 29-year-old from Patna, Bihar, has remained focused on being the best version of himself despite all the success and the added attention on his dark days. The world number one has firmly established himself as one of the best and is now aiming at a podium finish and a Paralympic gold to cement his legacy.
He suffered paralysis to his left leg after taking spurious polio medicine at a local eradication drive when he was two years old. The youngster did not let that deter him as he competed with other sports enthusiasts at St Paul's School in Darjeeling. It was during his stint there that he learnt to balance academics and sports, with both being treated with equal importance. There was no bias between a person with a disability and a person without one, and that gave him the strength and encouragement to face future challenges.
His passion for the high jump was conceived at a very nascent stage as he took a shine to the sport after watching his brother excel in it at the school level. He practiced alone despite his friends discouraging him because of his disability. He proved them wrong as he won most competitions, stunning his peers and the school authorities. There was no looking back after that as he blazed on through to the next levels with ease. His meteoric rise had his peers and others looking on at his achievements with awe as he quickly established himself as a threat and a future Paralympic medal hopeful.
He announced his presence at the international stage at the 2010 Asian Para Games in Guangzhou and has shined competing against the best in the world ever since. 2012 was a tumultuous year for the young star as he inched closer to his dream of winning a Paralympic gold for his country as he qualified for the London Paralympics. However, he was barred from participating in the Paralympics after testing positive for a banned drug.
"To be frank, the only hardship/ hurdle that came my way was the incident where I was framed into doping. That was a real and the only hardship I had faced. Apart from that, all the institutes and the people around me were always supportive. Right from my graduation at Delhi University or even at JNU, I never really had to come to terms with hurdles of any sort. But the perplexities of being framed into doping by my fellow athletes led to my ban for the consecutive two years. In that phase, I was broken because that was the time when I could have won Gold for the nation and become a world champion. Somewhere down the line, it always pricks me as once something is lost, it's lost and doesn't come back," he said while addressing the incident in an interview to IMD1.
Sharad bounced back with a vengeance showing both impeccable strength and resilience at one of the most troubling junctures of his life. He went on to win gold at the Asian Para Games in 2014 by clearing 1.80m, breaking a 12-year Asian Games record. He repeated the feat at the 2018 Para Asian Games Jakarta and broke his own record by jumping 1.90m. He also went on to win the silver at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships with a jump of 1.84m.
His 2016 Rio Paralympics performance was a disappointment compared to his usually high standards, prompting him to shift to Ukraine in 2017to train under coach Nikitan Yevhen, with an aim of landing on the podium at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The difficulties of training in a foreign country with an unknown language in a pandemic is a huge task, let alone for an athlete competing at the highest levels for whom mental health is key.
"After three days (of the announcement to postpone the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics), it struck me that 17 months is a lot of time when you had a fixed goal, for which you had put in four years of hard work. For me, being in Ukraine is for one target. All of a sudden, it's wiped out, and you have to train for another one-and-a-half year. You tend to lose interest," said Kumar, who is funded by the TOPS scheme, reports TNIE.
"I'm all by myself. I don't have friends because they don't speak English. I feel impatient. The best time for me is when I train for four hours. I'm at peace. When that is not happening, it is difficult to be in a confined environment," added Kumar.
He qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics after claiming silver at the World Para-Athletics Championships in Dubai. Despite qualifying, he was disappointed with his performance, saying that he could have done better as he strives for perfection before the Paralympics.
"I am disappointed with what I performed today. Considering that I have been living and training in Ukraine for the last three years; faced harsh conditions, I should have given a better performance. I need to re-check my schedule, my planning and many other things," Sharad was quoted as saying by the Paralympic Committee of India.
"It's been a hard time. I have been playing continuously. Now I need a break. I am going on a holiday from here with my friends who have come down to cheer for me from London," he added.
His drive and willpower to overcome the odds and challenges thrown his way make him a top contender who cannot be counted out. The Tokyo Paralympics
will be the perfect stage for him to cement his legacy while fulfilling his lifelong dream of winning the gold for his country.
"I have won back-to-back gold medals in the last two Asian Para Games, won a medal each (both silver) in IPC World Para-Athletics Championships. I have been a world number one. The only thing I have not won is a Paralympics medal. That is my ultimate dream," he said, reports India.com.