As the archers took their position in the compound archery team event at the NTPC Senior Archery Championship, only one took his stance sitting on a wheelchair.
Rakesh Kumar, the only para-athlete to compete alongside full-abled athletes, finished ninth in the group event qualifiers, scoring 701 out of 720 points possible.
The 36-year-old world No. 11 from Jammu is India’s highest-ranked para-athlete in open compound archery.
Rakesh won a gold medal at the 7th Fazza Para Archery World Ranking Tournament in Dubai this year and finished sixth at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Eight years ago, the same archery champion was left dejected following a spinal cord injury.
In 2009, after recovering from the injury, he realised he would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life, which led to depression.
“The condition was so bad that I even thought of taking my life. But then I decided to keep myself busy and opened a mobile recharge shop in Katra,” he told Sportstar.
“This was where I met my coach Kuldeep Vedwan.”
“When I met Rakesh (in 2017), I motivated him and asked him to try archery at the academy in Jammu that had just opened. He has not turned back since,” Kuldeep told Sportstar.
ALSO READ – AAI trying to revive National Ranking Tournament
Rakesh hailed Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, the body that maintains the holy shrine, the Sports Authority of India, and the Archery Association of Indian for their support, and stressed the importance of psychologists and dietitians in sports.
Rakesh himself has been under a sports psychologist and dietitian since 2020.
“Archery is a mind-game,” he said. “When we shoot in local fields, there is an added pressure. So, just like the coach is essential for us, psychologists are equally important.”
“Since we (para-athletes) are on a wheelchair, we may not eat much, but digestion becomes a problem and so a good dietitian is very important,” he added.
This year, Rakesh shot 699 out of a maximum of 720 points at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the highest score by an Indian para-archer in the qualification round.
Rakesh is now working harder for the 2024 Paralympic Games instead of looking back at his Tokyo performance.