H N Girish (Paralympian Silver Medalist 2012)
Prof Jagadeesh Prakash*
The emergence of sports for disabled persons can be traced back to World War II and to the contribution of an English physician, Dr Guttmann. He promoted the use of sports therapy to enhance the quality of lives of the people disabled during the war.
In 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttmann organized a sports competition involving World War II veterans with a spinal cord-related injury in Stoke Mandeville, England. Four years later, competitors from Holland joined the games, and the international movement, now known as the Paralympics Movement, ensued. Dr Guttmann’s vision and dream was to provide a worldwide wheelchair competition for people with disability equivalent to the Olympics. The games included six major classifications – persons with visual impairments, physical disability, amputee athletes, person with cerebral paralysis and spinal cord injuries and les autres (with muscular dystrophy).
It took 12 years for his vision to become a reality. The first Paralympics Games were held in Rome, Italy, in 1960 where 400 athletes participated from 23 countries. After 1960, Paralympics Games were held in two sessions during summer and winter. The first Winter Olympics Games were held in 1976 in Sweden which included Alpine and cross country skiing events.
Earlier Paralympics and Olympics were held at different time but in 1992 the approach was modified and Olympics and Paralympics are now held within a gap of two weeks. Both the events share the same venue and organizing committees, making Paralympics the second largest sports event of the world.
On 19 June 2001, an agreement was signed between the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympics Committee intended to protecting the organization of the Paralympics Games and sheltering the practice of “one bid, one city”, which meant that the performance of the Paralympics is automatically included in the bid for the Olympic Games. The agreement attends to the general scope and organization of the Paralympics Games with aspiration to create similar ideology for the organization of the Olympic and Paralympics Games. The agreement came into effect at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics Games, followed by the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics Winter Games
Governed by the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) and recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Paralympics Games have grown phenomenally. At the 1988 Seoul Paralympics Games, television rights were sold and a worldwide audience was able to watch the Games and witness the commitment and prowess of the Paralympics competitors.
Today the Paralympics Games is one of the largest events in the world, eclipsing in size the Commonwealth Games. At the 2008 Beijing Paralympics 146 nations sent 3,951 athletes, including 179 athletes from Australia, making it the second largest sporting event after the Olympic Games.
The disabled face many challenges in their everyday lives. And these are not simply rare occurrences they can recover from. These challenges need to be faced by them day in and day out. These days, people with disabilities have more opportunities to take part in the special sports than ever before. Athletes with disabilities, or para-athletes, often belong to the same organizations and participate in the same events as their able-bodied teammates and classmates.
Status of Paralympics in India
Paralympics in India was not recognized till 1992 when M Mahadev, receiver of Arjuna Award, and his friends started an organization at the national level for promotion and development of sports for physically challenged people. The Physically Handicapped Sports Federation of India was registered in 1994 with the registrar of co-operative societies, Bangalore, Karnataka. The federation started to train the handicapped athletes from all over the country to make them participate at state, national and international level competitions. This federation got affiliated to the International Paralympics Committee, Germany, the supreme body for disabled sports which is an organization parallel to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The federation also got affiliated to the International Wheel Chair and Amputee Sports Federation, UK, covering Wheel Chair and Amputee Sports world wide, FESPIC Federation, Japan, covering the countries in the Far East and the South Pacific region and the Asian Paralympics Committee, Malaysia.
India made her summer Paralympics debut in 1968 at Heidelberg. India participated during the 1972-1984 period but after that the country did not participate in any games till date.
India’s first Paralympics gold winner was Petkar in the 50 meter freestyle with a world record of 37.33 sec. In 1984, Jogindar Singh Bedi won silver in the shot put event, followed it up by wining bronze in discus throw and javelin throw along with Bhimrao Kesavkar who won the silver. Since then very few sportsperson received the media attention that they should have received. Mallathi Hoola from Karnataka became a role model for disabled people to take up sports for healthy lives.
The Story of Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda
Born in a poor farmer’s family in Hassan, H.N. Girisha has a disability in his left foot by birth. He studied at a school in his village Hosanagara in Hassan district. It was a frantic bid to escape a spanking by his father that helped Paralympics silver medalist H N Girisha discover that he could jump really high. As a small kid he had normal schooling and from then onwards he used to participate in inter school competitions. He was keen on high jump and he used to practice by jumping over the bushes around his house and over iron fencing. Seeing his interest in sports, his school teachers encouraged him to participate in various inter-school competitions.
Girisha, who had no job, competed against able-bodied athletes till the university level, when he learnt of the para games from officials in Bangalore, who had come to witness competitions in Hassan district. He was then soon shifted to disabled sports and found success at the national level. At 18, Girisha was selected to train at SAI’s southern centre in Bangalore in 2006, where he trained under Satyanarayana. He also trained under the Ukrainian coach Evgeni Nikitin.
Girisha’s first competition was at Taluk level when he was in the seventh standard without any professional training. He won the first prize and his career in sports got a kick-start. In 2005, he participated in the state level pre-university competition and won the first place. During 2006, he was selected for national competition and in his very first attempt he won the gold with a national record. His talent got recognized at international level competitions.
Girisha won the bronze at the World Junior Championship in 2006 held in Italy. His dream was to participate in the Olympics 2008 at Beijing. He started preparing for the competition and collected information through media about the top para-athletes performance, especially in the high jump category. He was also one of the strong contenders for the Beijing Paralympics. But his ill luck was that there was a quota of only four seats and he could not get through the selection process as he was too young to qualify at that particular level.
He was completely disappointed and almost left sports in 2009. But his coach always used to motivate him. With the stimulus provided by his coach and his confidence and hard work he once again began active with sports. He always considered Sachin Tendulkar as his role model. He was selected for the London Paralympics 2012 where he brought glory to the nation by winning a medal.
Girisha said an advantage he had during the London Paralympics 2012 was that the team had reached 30 days prior to the event and he had the opportunity to watch the sports. He had an experience of how it felt to perform in front of 80,000 audiences. He gained the knowledge of handling the pressure mentally. On 3 Sep 2012, Girisha cleared the first round of 1.74 meter mark in his second attempt, and what he saw made him more confident. He could see the Indian flags waving around the whole stadium which was a life time moment for him. He was the sixth ever Indian to claim a medal (silver) in the Paralympics. After that Girisha was awarded the Padamashri by the Government of India
Girsh as a Role Model
Due to the glory that Girisha brought to the country he received utmost attention from the media. As he was the only Indian sportsperson to win a medal during the London Paralympics 2012, he had a chance to be exposed to the international media. He was interviewed on the BBC radio. Soon afterwards umpteen state and national media started hailing the achievements of Girsish,. The local media considered Girish as an inspiring example for those who were born with disability. Due to his increased popularity after he received media attention, Girisha was provided financial support by the government of India and it also offered him the post of the Director of Sports Association of India (SAI) in Bangalore. Girisha is now preparing for the next Paralympics and to win for India the gold medal that he had missed in 2013.
Girisha from the very beginning was receiving the support of media. Media was concentrating on his achievements as he was the only Paralympics sportsperson to win a medal for India, a glorified moment for the country. The media highlighted him as a person with great will and determination and projected him as a model for people who are suffering from disability. His achievements in the state, national and international competitions were covered by All India Radio (AIR) Doordarshan (DD) and other private television channels. His first interview with the international media (BBC radio) after winning the silver medal in the London Paralympics was one of the greatest achievements in his life.
The extensive media coverage of the Paralympics around the world will contribute to a deeper understanding of the disability sport, that the athletes competing will be seen as part of a genuine elite and that in future years, host nations will be inspired to and will integrate fully the Olympic and Paralympics Games. Paralympians deserve to be recognized, and more people should get a chance to know them as well. This could lead to a more knowledgeable and understanding society in which people are united around athletes from all backgrounds.
His achievements at the age of 24 made Girisha a role model for a lot of youngsters residing in Hassan and all over the country. Among the many young people who have taken up sports are also children with disability who are motivated by his achievements projected by the media. The story of Girsha underscores how media can act positively as an agent to bring changes in society.