“It was just like a summer vacation hobby,” Avani Lekhara said when asked about the origins of her journey in sport shooting. Just a couple of hours ago she had won the bronze in the Women’s 50m 3 Positions SH1 event at the Tokyo Paralympics on Friday.
“I went to the shooting range in my summer vacation in 2015. Even in school I wasn’t interested in any kind of sport. But then I read Abhinav Bindra sir’s autobiography, and it really inspired me. He gave his 100 percent to what he did,” she added during a virtual media interaction organised by the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI).
Blazing a trail just like Bindra did at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Lekhara etched her name as the first Indian woman to win two Paralympic medals on Friday. Earlier in the week on Monday, she had won gold in the 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 event to become the first woman from the country to earn the yellow medal.
Lekhara met with a car accident in 2012 which resulted in a spinal cord injury that left her lower limbs paralysed.
Speaking about the difficulties faced in 3 Positions shooting events, which consists of athletes shooting in Kneeling, Prone and Standing positions, Lekhara said, “3 Positions requires a lot of fitness. We need different equipment for Kneeling, Prone and Standing. Because I’m on a wheelchair, adjusting all the equipment took a lot of time. The table [a support platform] is like your body. People use their knees for kneeling, so the table is like my knee during the match,” the 19-year-old said.
Lekhara began her career by participating in 10m Standing events and branched into 50m (Standing and Prone) and 10m Prone only in 2017 after winning the silver in 10m Standing at the World Cup in the UAE the same year.
Highlighting the differences between the distances, she said, “Since the distance is 50m, any slight movement of the body can result in a huge inaccuracy at the other end. So, we need to train a lot physically to endure a match which lasts for about two hours and 45 minutes. It requires a lot more mental and physical strength than 10m Standing events.”
“Also, managing four events was tough. My body wasn’t strong enough then to hold a 50m rifle for two hours and 45 minutes. Also, when you start another event, your own event undergoes changes and ups and downs.”
She was placed sixth before the Standing round on Friday and made a strong comeback in her preferred position to claim the bronze. “My Standing is stronger than the other two positions. I had decided to give my best in Standing and focussed on doing that,” she said.
“My start wasn’t good. That’s what finals do to you. You get nervous. In the last match I was just focusing on one shot at a time,” she added.
Friday’s bronze was also Lekhara’s first international medal in a 3 Positions event.
With two medals under her belt at the Paralympics, Lekhara is not going to rest on her laurels and will resume action on Sunday in the 50m Rifle Prone SH1 qualification.
“I wasn’t satisfied even with the gold. When I won the gold, I wanted the last shot to be better. So, this bronze is definitely not satisfying. Now, I want to keep all celebrations on the side and focus on the next event,” she said.