Two years back in 2012, Sharad Kumar was banned for taking steroids at the Malaysian Open Para-athletics Championships but the differently-abled high-jumper silenced all his critics by clinching a gold medal at the recently concluded Para Asian Games in Incheon. However, to his dismay, no one has come forward to even acknowledge his achievement, let alone reward him for it.
Sharad won gold medal in the men's high jump at the Games, also broke a 12-year Asian Games record by clearing a height of 1.80m in his f-42 category (one disabled leg) in the event and reclaimed his World No. 1 position.
"Honestly, I got goosebumps and it took some minutes for me to realise that I have won the gold medal. I was emotional on the podium but did not want to cry. Watching the tricolour being hoisted and hearing the National Anthem was an amazing feeling. I can still feel the moment," Sharad said in an exclusive interview with IBNLiveSports.
The 22-year-old, who has a left leg disability due since the age of two due to polio, wasn't aware of the record after achieving the incredible feat.
"I didn't know about that. After I performed and was awarded with the gold medal, then my team members told me about the record. It was like a cherry on the cake for me", Sharad said.
On being asked about the sorry incident in 2012, which barred Sharad from participating in the London Olympics, the 22-year-old said: I don't want to recall that period of my life. It was a nightmare for me. It all happened by mistake. I don't want to say anything on this. I was tested positive but I didn't do it intentionally. I wasn't aware of it even. It was actually a tough time, which tormented me from inside. I used to cry blood. I many a times locked myself in a room and burst with tears. Now, I have forgotten it as a bad dream. I tried to convince NADA (National Anti Doping Agency), but when I was tested positive, there was no use of banging my head again and again. I was completely devastated. I used to feel ashamed that I am fighting a doping case. But I couldn't explain the officials".
The Paralympian made his comeback this year, when he got a chance at Incheon Paralympics after two painful years.
"Two athletes were selected to represent India at Incheon this year. But I would like to give my heartiest thanks to Rajesh Tomar sir (Paralympic Committee of India president) and my family for their support. They supported me during my bad time. Rajesh sir fought for me and approached the committee to let me go as a third athlete in the event. I knew this is my best and may be the last chance to prove everything. I wanted to just perform and I did it. I am so relieved now. There is nothing like winning something for our country," the six-feet athlete, who hails from Patna, said.
In a country where Games medallists are showered with monetary awards and some lucky ones even bag government jobs, authorities haven't bothered much about Sharad's achievement.
"After I won the coveted gold medal, no one asked me or spoke to me. Obviously I felt bad. I also expected a lot after winning the medal," Sharad said.
"A Paralympian doesn't want anything. He just wants recognition," he said wig a heavy heart. "Medallists get free passes for travelling by train. They get government jobs too but after my performance I didn't get any recognition," Sharad said.
"I am still paying for my training and do not have sponsors. I travel and take care of my expenses by myself. I am looking for a trainer as well. I just need some support from the government," he said.
"I would be thankful if the government provides me access to the facilities which an athlete should get. I am asking what I deserve," Sharad said.
After the Asian Games triumph, Sharad's main target is Rio Olympics. Though he regrets missing the London Olympics due to the unfortunate doping ban, he wants to come up as a winner at the 2016 Games.
"I am really happy the way I have performed in Incheon. The gold medal in Asian Games means I have got a direct entry at the World Championships now which will be held in Qatar. If I emerge as winner there, then my direct entry for Rio Games will be confirmed. I am working really hard for that," Sharad added.
"Missing London Olympics was a big setback for me. But it's past now. I don't want to think much about that. I have buried it. I have done what I aimed for in Incheon. I have moved on and it is time to perform and just perform," the paralympian said.