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  • How top Indian Para athletes are coping with Covid-19 restrictions?


    As the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the Olympic and Paralympic Movements across the globe have been affected. Sporting events including the most-anticipated Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games have been postponed until next summer, while athletes are under pressure to either reschedule or cancel their training as they try to stay safe at home.

    India has been observing one of strictest coronavirus lockdowns since March 24, 2020 with over 4 lakh infected cases so far. And much like abled body athletes, the country’s para athletes are forced to continue their training process at home with the shut-down of stadium and training facilities in their respective cities.

    We tried to connect with some of the country’s top Para athletes on how they are coping with the current lockdown situation and continuing their training.

    Staying physically and mentally strong are one of the most important aspects for the Para athletes during the last three months, while for some it was about spending quality time with family and pursuing their hobbies after a long time. And few others, like Para athlete Ekta Bhyan and Para shooter Avani Lekhara, who have spinal cord injuries, were taking high precautionary measures to avoid getting infected. The one with spinal cord injuries are at higher risk of getting infected owing to impaired respiratory system and lower immunity.

    Doing a lot of Dry Firing and Wall Holding: Avani Lekhara

    Lekhara, the teenaged Para shooter from Jaipur, admitted that she was disappointed with the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games after a lot of hard work done in the last four years.

    “It took some time for me to process what was happening around. Then I made a fresh training programme and started with yoga and mental exercises to calm my nerves and focus on positive things. 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.

    “I am also doing virtual training on the start machine, and have arranged a lot of gym equipment like dumb bells, thera bands, weights and gym ball to continue my physical training, which I am doing two hours a day,” she told Paralympic Committee of India.

    Lekhara, who achieved the Tokyo 2020 quota in 50m prone (R6) event at the 2019 Al Ain World Cup, added that the lockdown period has allowed her to spend some quality time with family which she couldn’t do in the past one year owing to travelling. “I am also pursuing my Bachelors in Law from Rajasthan University and the online classes are keeping me busy.”

    Meanwhile Indonesia 2018 Asian Para Games gold medallist club thrower Ekta Bhyan urged the athletes using accessible devices to be “extra careful” as they are using the devices 24x7.

    “Since the coronavirus outbreak, I am doing all the workouts that I can do at home. I haven’t stepped out of my home for the last three months. I am trying to take complete care of myself as I have impaired respiratory system. Trying to exercise in the morning and evening with dumbbells, thera bands, weight curls and medicine balls. Also, I am doing yoga and breathing exercises to stay positive,” said Bhyan, who is also pursuing her hobbies painting and reading during this time.

    Eager to start training with my Javelin: Sandeep Chaudhary

    Bhyan’s fellow para athlete Sandeep Chaudhary, World no. 1 Javelin thrower, was forced to shift his training base from JN Stadium in New Delhi to his home at Gurugram and, it’s been three months now that he hasn’t trained with his Javelin.

    “As the lockdown was relaxed a bit in the last couple of weeks, I have started training alone in a field near my home. In the last two months, the focus has been more on basic fitness and mental strengthening. I have not started a strenuous workout with my javelin and just keeping my body in shape with light exercises. A good diet and some meditation are also in my daily routine. Just hoping to get back to train with my javelin soon,” said Chaudhary, who claimed his first Worlds title at Dubai 2019.

    Meanwhile, Ukraine-based para athlete Sharad Kumar was happy to return to training though he cautioned that the major championships including the Paralympic Games may be at risk until a vaccine is developed.

    “Things are looking much better here now and I am really happy to return to training for the last three weeks. Initially I was under a lot of distress as everything looked uncertain — my fitness was deteriorating; nutrition wasn’t up to the mark and there wasn’t enough sleep. As I am all by myself here so that becomes another tough part. But now that training is happening, everything looks normal.”

    “Still that doesn’t make everything clear with no vaccine developed yet. Since less than 400 days left for the Games, the training is all about body fitness, trying to get back in shape and eat proper food. The only other way I am trying to get busy by taking some online courses,” added the former world no. 1, who recently took an exam conducted by Sports Authority of India for coaches.

    Watching great athletes’ journeys has been helpful: Sukant Kadam

    Top Para badminton player Sukant Kadam, who returned home from his training base in Lucknow in the first week of March, says he is focusing on mental and physical exercises at home with no badminton court around.

    “I started playing outdoor badminton for a while, but as the virus was spreading it became impossible. So, I am continuing my mental and physical training at home. I am in touch with my mental trainer (Gayatri Varthak) over the phone and we plan our weekly routine. I feel more confident now after a couple of weeks of training. Day by day my thoughts and mental strength are improving. In physical training, I am strengthening my muscles and trying to stay fit as much as I can,” said Kadam from Kouthuli village based in Sangli district of Maharashtra.

    “In strengthening, I am focusing more on my back leg as I have realized in tournaments that if I can stretch my back leg then I can move on court with ease and faster. I am also keeping myself positive by doing Meditation and Yoga. Moreover, I am trying to make myself busy in work as I used to be in training days, planning different types of training programmes and watching legendary athletes’ journeys, for example: Michael Jordan, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Mohammed Ali etc. These great people's stories motivate and encourage me to keep going and continue the process.”

    Reigning world champion Manasi Joshi said she was keeping herself fit physically and mentally with home workouts and book-reading.

    “Since more than two months. I am doing wall practice at home and sometimes going down in my building for some knocking with my brother. Reading has been also very helpful in staying positive. Besides, attending other athletes' Insta live and feeling that I'm not alone who is feeling similar is of great help,” said the 31-year-old para shuttler from Rajkot.

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