Arvind Malik, a para-athlete, has won several medals in his career. He plays shot put in the F35 events. He has set a world record at the IPC Athletics Asia- Oceania Championship 2016– Men’s discus throw with a Gold Medal. In a candid telephonic chat with Sociotab, he shared his shortcomings in his performance at the Tokyo Paralympic and the state of sports in the country. He also talked about the importance of sports at the school level. Read here:
My journey started in 2012. My younger brother used to play badminton. I had the habit of accompanying my father to the stadium when he used to drop him off at the stadium. There was one senior Paralympic athlete who asked me to try for para-sports. Honestly, before that, I had no idea if such a form of the game exists or not. He suggested that I should try for shot put or discus throw. I fall in the F-35 category which is due to a head injury. But I had an athletic body, so he guided me to practice and try for para-sports.
Chasing The Dreams: Finding Yourself
I am thankful to God, my family has been very supportive and pushed me to give it a try. “Jis din maine target liya paralympic mai khelna hai, medal laana hai, who same target mere parents ne bhi le liya tha.” Thankfully due to the family support, I didn’t go through the societal prejudice. My family was always there to back me. My brother, friends and everybody around me were very accommodating and cooperative.
But sometimes I used to feel that whether I will ever be able to achieve what I dreamt for myself or not. “Mere mann mai hota tha.” All the self-doubt, the jealousy and the helplessness existed till the time, I had no goal to achieve. “Jab maine mai Paralympic mai medal laane ko apna lakshya bana liya, tab ki baat mere mann mein yeh baat nahi aayi ki mai kya karunga, ya mai peeche reh jaunga.” But now, I have an aim to achieve and a dream to chase and I am actively chasing it.
No Turning Back
In 2014 was my first Asian game, in the 2016 IPC Athletics Asia-Oceania Championship I bagged my first gold medal, and there was no turning back. I qualified for the 2016 Rio Paralympics, but I was not able to go due to some ranking. So, Tokyo Paralympics was my first Paralympics and the journey was beautiful. I was very energetic and enthusiastic about the games. Although I didn’t win any medals, it was a big learning lesson for me. The performance was not up to my expectation. In hindsight, I think I lacked practice. But I will practice more and will give better performance. Now I am looking forward to the World Championship and Asian Games. I am solely focused on them now. My aim is to work on where I think I lack practice. I will try my best.
“Hamare Desh mai Talent ki kami nahi hai”- Sports Culture in India
Honestly, there is no lack of talent in our country. “Hamare desh mein Talent ki kami nahi hai.” So, like Neeraj Chopra who has won India’s first athletics medal in India, “Aise gaon main bahut hote hai, jinko facility nahi mil paati.” One stadium in the district is not enough. We need at least one stadium for a two-three villages in a district. So that youngsters and children can come out and nurture their talent. They can come to the highest level given the right opportunities and facilities. “Woh log apna talent bhi nahi dekh paate hai basic level.” If they get the opportunity to play javelin throw at their village, they might pursue to come to cities for further training. But if they don’t know about javelin throw or have never seen anybody play or played themselves, then how will they know about their talent.
This problem is at the basic level, once you reach a certain level, there are good facilities, there is good equipment, coaches. There is a lot of scope for improvement at the basic level.
Sports and Mindset
Like we go to school to learn from the basics like ABCD like that sports should also be incorporated into the curriculum. Sports should be included for children to seek their talent. It will help them to develop an interest in sports. It is best to incorporate sports at the school level. Even if they are not going to a professional level it is very important for their overall personality development.
I would say that slowly people are showing interest in Paralympics as well. This time people showed immense support and interest in the game and we were able to secure a lot of medals. People welcomed the para-athletes with a lot of enthusiasm. But yes, I would say there still exist a difference between the two. I can’t put it in words. It exists in our mindset and it can only change if we change our mentality and look at the sportsperson as a sportsperson. All players play for the country and win medals for the country, so we all deserve equal respect and appreciation.
My Role Model
I would, for now, look up to Neeraj Chopra for his level of dedication to sports. I have met him once. He is a very inspiring athlete, how he sets his pace, his mentality of keeping himself calm and then competing. I like to know about his goals, the way he speaks. Everything about him is motivating.