Running past disability

From cleaning DTC buses to becoming the first Indian to win a gold at an international running event, Narayan Thakur shares his inspiring story, which also made its place in PM Modi’s Mann Ki Baat

Narayan Thakur was born with a serious condition called left side hemiparesis, a condition in which a person suffers a complete paralysis on the left side of the body. In 2018, he went on to become the first Indian to ever win a gold in a 100 m race at an international event, as he clinched the top prize at the 2018 Para Asian Games at Jakarta.

But life was not always this grateful to Thakur. Born to a family who migrated to Delhi from Bihar because his father needed treatment for a severe heart disease, Thakur was always financially unstable. When they settled in Delhi, they used to stay in a jhuggi (slum house made of mud and iron waste) near Samaypur Badli. Making ends meet daily was a very difficult task for the Thakur family, and when Narayan was eight years old, a huge tragedy struck the household, as his father passed away.

“We were three children, and so it was difficult for my mother alone to pay for all our education, especially after my father’s untimely death. So, me and my brother were sent to an orphanage,” says Thakur.

It was in this orphanage that he had his first brush with sports. “I saw children there, who were disabled like me, and still they played different kinds of sports,” says Thakur. “I always wanted to be a cricketer and that is why I was always inclined towards sports,” he adds. Narayan started playing wheelchair cricket, but since he found that there is no future in the game, he started looking for opportunities in other sports until he found out that there is a lot of scope in para athletics. That is when he decided that he will start running.

To search for better opportunities in athletics, Narayan left the orphanage in 2010. But then, tragedy once again struck the Thakur family. The jhuggis in Samaypur Badli were demolished in 2010, and the family lost their home. To make ends meet, and also sustain a new house, Narayan had to take up a job.

“It was then that I started working as a cleaner for Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses”, says Thakur. “But the job didn’t last that long, since they thought that I was too slow for a cleaner, and my disability was a major hindrance for them, and the job was taken away from me,” he adds.
Thakur then also worked as an attendant at a petrol pump, and then as a waiter in local dhabas. “But those jobs also were taken away because of my disability,” he says.However, despite all these setbacks Thakur still had one eye on his dream of becoming an athlete.

“Someone told me that I should start training at Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, but to reach there I had to take three buses which would cost me around Rs 50 a day,” he says . “I also tried to shift base to Panipat for my training but that also didn’t work out. Finally, I got to train in Thyagraj Stadium which was nearer to my home,” adds Thakur.

But during his playing days too he had to face a lot of hurdles. “I was supposed to play in the T-35 category, which is meant for people with full disability, but due to the negligence of the authority, I participated in events meant for the T-37 category, which is meant for people with limited or partial disability. So, technically, I was competing with people who were at a better physical condition than me,” says Thakur.

But in spite of this difficulty, he won a bronze in the 2015 National Games, his first participation in the tournament. In 2016, he again was put in the T-37 category, and he again won a bronze in both the 100 m and 200 m races in the National Games.

“2017 was a very important year for me as I was introduced to my coach Amit Khanna, who himself was former national running champion. Due to his training, I won my first silver in the national Games that year,” he says . “In the world championship trials that year, I was selected to represent my country in China,” he adds.

“But the authorities refused to pay for my trip to China because the expenses were too high. So I somehow managed to get hold of the money, and went there as this was my first opportunity to represent the country,” says Thakur . “In China I was certified to play in the T-35 category finally,” he adds.

“After my certification, there, when I played the Nationals in 2018, I managed to clinch my first gold medals, in both the 100 and 200 m races,” says Narayan. After that, he also clinched gold in the world championships in France that year, and also qualified for the Jakarta Para Asian games.
The crowning moment for Thakur came in this very tournament in Jakarta. He clinched a gold medal in the 100 m category, thus becoming the first Indian to do so at any international event. “It was the greatest moment of my life, but I was a little disappointed as I could not achieve the same in the 200 m race,”, he adds .

Recently, in his October edition of Mann Ki Baat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned his story , as an example, to inspire the youth of the country. “It feels extremely proud, when the most important person in the country took my name. It not only gave my achievements a validation, but also earned me recognition,” says Thakur.

However, Narayan Thakur doesn’t wish to stop here. “My next target is the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Winning a gold there is my ultimate dream,” he concludes.

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