Manasi Joshi’s story is one of grit, determination, patience and resilience, which is a perfect concoction for any sports great. The 31-year-old para badminton athlete, who is hopeful of representing India in the sport at Tokyo Paralympic 2021, has been championing the cause of affordable prostheses for individuals, and rues that the ones that are currently made aren’t fit to be used for all activities.
“One can’t run with an artificial limb that is meant for walking,” says Joshi, adding, “Having these prostheses definitely opened up many doors for me, but they are hard to maintain and need regular replacing, which costs a bomb! I feel 90% of differently-abled people in this country cannot afford artificial limbs, plus there is tax on it. It is like paying tax for being able to walk!”
Joshi lost her leg in a road accident, in 2011, and was re-introduced to badminton that had been only a pastime for her before. In 2019, she bagged the world championship gold in Basel, and now with para badminton set to make its debut at the Tokyo Paralympics, this sportsperson is upping her training while residing with her family in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. “Even during the lockdown my trainer ensured that all my fitness needs were met with whatever we could arrange in the house. As unlock gradually happened, we went out and got a bicycle for more rigorous exercising.”
One of her videos that recently went viral shows how Joshi has been relearning this skill of balancing her act on the blades – she has three blades, one each for walking, playing and running. “I got a new prosthesis, which helped me. Once the interstate travel was allowed, I went to Mumbai to get trained in running, which was never a part of my training before. It’s hard to imagine that one has forgotten how to run, but running on blades is a different ball game,” she adds.
With the pandemic having changed the rules of almost every game, Joshi agrees that while she hopes the Paralympics will happen unhindered next year, the consumption of sports will certainly “change to cater to the needs of the audience”. She adds, “As differently-abled athletes and sportspersons, we are wired to immediately think on our feet and adapt to circumstances. I’ve managed to glide through this period without much stress. And the sports will acclimatise to any change; there is no doubt.”
“As differently-abled sportspersons, we are wired to immediately think on our feet and adapt to circumstances. I’ve managed to glide through this period without much stress.”
In a country that goes gaga over cricket, is there a possibility to get adequate attention for para sports and athletes? Joshi recalls the time of 2016 when India managed a volley of four medals at Rio Paralympics. “India’s para movement certainly grabbed eyeballs then,” she says, opining, “Media highlighted the stories of various athletes, and that has inspired others to imagine a future in para sports. But there is a long road that still needs to be traversed especially when it comes to the needs of people at grassroots level, who are unaware of their potential.”
Think if Bollywood, perhaps, can take stories of paralympians to households, and Joshi — who loves to binge watch movies — is happy to share the thought since she too feels that sports stories have often caught the eye of cinema. “Biopics are a great way of telling stories of gritty athletes. Some films have already been announced, and we need many more to bring to light our efforts,” she concludes.
Author tweets @bhagat_mallika