CHENNAI: The one jump at Rio Paralympics, Thangavelu Mariyappan will never forget in life. Mariyappan clinched gold in Rio on Friday and became the toast of a medal-starved nation.
The 21-year-old para-athlete, who’s been raised by a single mom who sold vegetables and worked as a daily wage labourer, soared 1.89m and became the first Indian to win a high jump gold in the Paralympics. The T42 high jump event is for single above-the-knee amputees. There was another reason to cheer. India came up with a second finish as Greater Noida boy Varun Bhati, who got polio when he was a child, took bronze in the same event with a jump of 1.86m.
This is India’s third gold medal in Paralympics, the first two were won by Murlikant Patekar (swimming, 1972) and Devendra Jhajharia (javelin throw, 2004).
Mariyappan, who is now ranked no. 1 in T42 category, was emotional after his win. “It felt surreal when I stood on the podium. All the sacrifices made by my mother have paid off. My first agenda now is to construct a big house for our family,” he said.
Abandoned by his father 10 years ago, Mariyappan’s mother, Saroja, single-handedly fended for her four children. With cash rewards now pouring in – Tamil Nadu government has announced a Rs 2-cr reward — the family from Periyavadagampatti village in Salem district of Tamil Nadu can put their hard days behind them.
Mariyappan was injured in a bus accident when he was just five but that did not stop him from taking part in sports events alongside regular competitors, and winning.
At the Government Higher Secondary School in Periyavadagampatti, physical director R Rajendiran saw the spark in Mariyappan. “During those days, he would jump more than a normal person. I asked him to take part in the regular category and he started winning competitions year after year,” says the 48-year-old. Till 2011, Mariyappan took part only in the regular category at the district level. “It was a meet in Hosur that changed his life. The Krishnagiri collector said he had great potential to win at the Paralympics. Then we decided to shift focus,” said Rajendiran.
Source: Times of India