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Know Your Heroes | Sandeep Choudhary - Throwing beyond the horizon

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Know Your Heroes | Sandeep Choudhary - Throwing beyond the horizon

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Subhayan Dutta


MS Dhoni getting picked in school cricket team for his goalkeeping skills is a story well known to everyone. However, what they don’t know is that the same skill also directed a para-athlete to take up javelin throw, and eventually become one of India’s biggest hopes in Asiad 2018.

“I used to be a goalkeeper in college. The legs did not have significant use as a goalkeeper then, as I used my hands to deflect the ball from reaching the goal. I could also throw the ball far up the field with accuracy, which was sort of like a hint of my potential,” Indian javelin thrower Sandeep Choudhary told SportsCafe.

Born into a family that always encouraged sports, Sandeep got exposure into all kinds of indoor and outdoor games very early in his childhood, which made it easier for him to change disciplines later in future. Otherwise, how would one explain someone, who played badminton and volleyball in the national level, to take up javelin suddenly and excel in it in no time? 

It took Sandeep just one year of proper javelin practice to win a medal at the international level. “You can say sports is something which I had been born with.”

However, his hidden talent wasn’t something that popped up in front of him one fine day. Like most other discoveries, Sandeep’s potential also needed someone to observe his abilities, do the math and suggest a field that could inculcate them all at an optimal level. In his case, the light came in the form of a friend, Bharat.

“So, I have always played badminton and volleyball. It required a lot of hand activity and made my shoulders quite powerful. When I came to Delhi, I met my friend Bharat who introduced me to para-sports. I wasn't aware of this before. So, he told me that I had a good chance of playing Javelin.”

Sandeep’s story is more unfortunate than tragic. He had injured his hip in 2008 while playing in his native village and he didn’t realize the severity of the situation back then. However, he didn’t leave it untended for long for and as soon as there was pus formation in his internal hip joint, Sandeep went for surgery. However, what’s unfortunate was his suffering even after the surgery. 

In an attempt to ensure that the internal infection didn’t spread to his entire body, Sandeep had to face serious consequences. “After the surgery (initially) it was fine. But then growth in one of my legs was retarded, while the other kept growing. That actually caused the problem. There was a problem in almost everything (since then). First, there is a constant pain in my legs and gradually my joint movements were quite restricted,” he says.

But, Sandeep could still walk, which meant he could still play. And his immense willingness for it led him to his first sporting stint in badminton, through an interesting incident. “One day my friend came to me crying that he lost in badminton at the district level because of his height. Then I considered that I had a good height. So, in 2010 and 2011 we practiced and we won at district as well as states level.”

Just like that. Yes, Sandeep’s USP has always been picking up any sport faster than most people and playing badminton at the national level didn’t limit him from trying out other sports. “I came to college, Hansraj, Delhi University. It was fun and then I saw our college football team did not have a suitable goalkeeper, so I took the role for my college team.” 

“As my college had no volleyball team, I was the one to form a volleyball team for the first time. Not to brag, but I've always been able to do good if I got involved in sports. I felt good doing something in sports, not only for me but for other people as well. So, you can say it's a result of these things that I am doing so good in sports.”

Sandeep’s father had been in the Special Forces Commando under the direct command of the Prime Minister of India, before a nerve-related injury while on duty, in 2013, caused paralysis of his body, memory loss, and loss of reading or interpreting inability. Sandeep took up javelin after that incident and success couldn’t come any sooner for the Delhi-born athlete. 

After his achievements in smaller competitions here and there for a year and half, Sandeep decided to stick with javelin. “I made up my mind in 2014, after Asian Games. I was attached to this sports after that.”

In 2016, he went on to win a gold medal at the FAZZA World Para-Athletic Championships in Dubai as well as in Germany at the Berlin Open and ended fourth in the Rio Paralympics, which still remains his biggest achievement till date. He followed that up with a fifth-place finish at the IPC World Para Athletics Championships London, 2017. Apart from holding the position of a national champion, Sandeep has also won multiple medals at international events, with the major ones including a silver at the 2018 Handisport Open.

His fourth-placed finish in Rio, of course, has been his biggest achievement so far, one that brought him closer to fame. But, it also gave him a very important lesson, one that could come tremendously handy in his preparations for the Asiad later this month and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“When I was fourth in Rio, everyone said that it's good that I'm world fourth, they encouraged me. But, when I came back to India, I realized fourth and 40th are the same. Either you are a medalist or you are not. Then I joined GoSports and they helped me financially. After that, I have tried my best to claim their trust and deliver my best to them.”

Sandeep participates from the F44 and F54 category and as of August 4, 2018, his world ranking is 172nd in the F44 category and 256th in the F54 category. The F44 category, as meticulously defined by the International Paralympic Committee, classifies athletes into this it when he or she has a “lower limb affected by limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement.”

The F54 category, on the other hand, as defined by the same organization, places those athletes into this who “have full power and movements in their arms, but no power in their abdominal muscles and typically no sitting balance. An athlete with partial to full trunk control but with upper limbs that fit the F53 profile is appropriately placed in this class."

However, his disability hasn’t stopped him from dreaming big and his determination to do well for the country was evident when Sandeep gave a slight peek into his regular training regime. “I usually report at 5 in the morning and have my breakfast by nine. Then I go off to sleep till 10:30 am. I wake up to have my lunch and then again I go off to sleep. I go for my evening practice by six and come back at nine to have my dinner and then I retire for the night.”

Like all para-athletes, Sandeep too craves for an acceptance in his own eyes and dreams of competing with the able bodied athletes some day. He proudly stated that his trainings and exercises are no different from them and one day, he will compete with them.

“It's good that I'm playing in para, but I have it in my mind that I want to play with the able as well. I am determined to prepare so well that I am capable enough in the able standard also. This is the reason I practice with the able athletes so that my fitness level remains at top and I acquire high standards in Javelin. In the fitness exercise, I challenge all the top throwers of the able category,” said Sandeep.

However, that doesn’t stop him from admiring India’s blue-eyed boy, Neeraj Chopra, among others in javelin. “I get inspired looking at Neeraj ji, because he is so young and has made such a name for himself in Javelin around the World.”

The interview ended with Sandeep exuding an optimistic vibe ahead of the Asiad. He is currently training in India as Jakarta won’t have a very different weather. “We are working towards it, we are determined. Nothing can be assured, but we are confident that we’ll be able to do it,” Sandeep concluded.

 © SportsCafe

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