MEET THE TEAM: SO Bharat (India)
Special Olympics Team Bharat is fired up and ready to take on the world at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 next month!
VOLUNTEER CONTENT: By Valerie Radford
Over 200 athletes, from diverse regions and backgrounds of India, will participate in a wide range of sports at the World Games. Some of these athletes are world travellers, while others have never travelled far from their remote villages. What they all have in common is a determination to represent their families, towns, and country to the best of their ability. Here are some of the ones we will be keeping an especially close eye on in action next month.
Abhishek Gogoi - Cycling
Cheerful and standing tall at six-foot tall, Gogoi was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy after jaundice affected his brain in the days following his birth.
He joined Special Olympics Bharat in 2008. About this time, his father tragically lost his battle with cancer, leaving his then pregnant mother to raise Gogoi alone.
Now 18-years-old, he is absolutely dedicated to his training, visiting a gym every day from 11am to 3pm, followed by continuous cycling for three hours around the city of Guwahati, in the north-eastern state of Assam.
He’s working hard on his endurance with the dream of taking home a gold for India at the World Games. His Coach, Lakhan, who is currently mentoring him for the World Games lives in a different state (Jharkhand), so Gogoi’s mother diligently reports his progress, occasionally submitting videos for feedback.
“Because of Special Olympics today I see a different Abhishek,” his mother said in an interview. “This is because of so many people who he has met as part of his journey through Special Olympics. His participation across the camps made him visible and the Mayor of Guwahati got in touch and supported him with a bicycle through crowd funding. With constant sporting activity he remains active. He loves himself.”
Akansha Shantaram Mahtre – Basketball
As Mahtre sits in her one-room house along with her parents and elder brother, she focuses on realising her dreams, no matter how many challenges stand in her way. Her mother’s daily toil to buy and sell fish to run the house on a single income is a concern shelved for the moment.
“I am excited to play a competition and that too with people from a different country. I will make new friends also”, Mahtre said, of her upcoming participation in the World Games.
In pursuit of her goal, the 18-year-old wakes up early to go for a walk followed by exercises, as directed by her Coach Bharti Varade. She plays Basketball regularly in her school, Lion's Juhu Centre, practicing individual skills along with a monitored diet of the required proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Mahtre has made tremendous leaps in confidence and ability to get to where she is now. After joining the Special Olympics sports program and participating in athletics, football and basketball, she reached the National level in Athletics and participated in the Special Olympics Malaysia Invitational Unified Five-A-Side Football Tournament held in 2017.
“The transformation that I have observed in Aksansha is tremendous; be it in sports or her personal development,” says Coach Varade. “She is confident, speaks with clarity. She earlier used to get a little breathless during her sports practises. We got her medical examinations done, which were clear and worked towards building her stamina. Her growth through sports has made her capable enough for a job. On her return from the Abu Dhabi games I will see if she can get vocational training which could fetch her a job.”
Ranveer Saini – Haryana - Golf
Ranveer Saini is a Special Olympics Bharat athlete and a well-known Golfer from the state of Haryana and is preparing to tee off at the World Summer Games at Abu Dhabi 2019, according to an interview in Golf Digest India.
For almost as long as he can remember Saini has been wielding a golf club. At just nine-years-old in 2013, he was entered in Special Olympics Golf Masters at Macau. Storming the competition, he took gold medal at the tournament and in subsequent years added four more to his collection including at the LA Games 2015. He has also picked up a few accolades along the way too including the Bhim Award, a high honor in golf.
Unsurprisingly, such success does not come with a lot of hard work. Saini spends at least 14 hours a week on the course and driving range practicing with his coach, along with two hours fitness programs a week and 12 hours of therapy.
These achievements ignite a deep sense of joy from his parents.
“His early childhood was very de-motivating and intense. His identity was that of a person diagnosed with autism at the age of two years. The shadow of the social stigma loomed large, standing in the way of Ranveer’s acceptance into even the driving range and the Golf club. He would keep rotating on his toes and had an attention span of just 45 seconds,” said Dr Cmdr Kartikay Saini.
It’s pretty amazing when you consider Saini now happily plays a four-hour game of golf.
“Special Olympics is the only and major factor that has changed his life, in no uncertain terms. It made sure that it was an introduction to the game, progression in game steering towards unification, health, perfection and overall growth. All this has blended to make him reach where he is today,” his parent said.
Ranveer’s main motto now - “Never give up!”