Devendra Jhajharia is nothing less than an inspiration for athletes. Despite losing his left hand at the age of eight when he touched a live electric cable of 11000 volts while climbing a tree, Jhajharia has left his disability behind and has went on to become India's top para-athlete.
He won a silver medal in men's javelin throw F46 event to give the country its first medal in the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) Athletics World Championships in October 2015.
The 35-year-old, who won a gold in the 2013 edition of the event in Lyon, came up with a best throw of 59.06m to finish second behind Guo Chunliang (61.89m) of China at the Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium.
With this magnificent effort, Jhajharia, an IPC world-record holder in the event, also booked a berth for 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.
"I am so happy and feeling proud that I am going to represent my country on such a big platform again," Jhajharia told IBNLive in an exclusive interview.
"I am in a good touch again. Rio is the only thing in my mind. I want to repeat my Athens performance in Rio. I want to kiss the gold medal again and hoist the tri-colour on Rio soil. I want to create history again," said Jhajharia.
Jahjharia won gold in the javelin throw at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and became only the second gold-medalist for the country at the Paralympics.
"I still get goosebumps when I recall that moment and my eyes get moist. I was in a brilliant form ahead of the Athens Games. I won gold at the British Open, which was scheduled ahead of the Athens Games and I also broke the world record. By winning the gold, I had shown the world that I am one of the strong contenders to win a medal at Athens," Jahjharia added.
"I just wanted to create history. It was a big opportunity for me. I just went there and gave my best. I was feeling extremely proud after winning the medal for my country. I won the gold and again broke the world record. It was a double achievement for me. It was a big moment for a 22-year-old boy," he said.
This spectacular feat helped Jhajharia, a resident of Churu District in Rajasthan, get honoured with the 2004 Arjuna Award. He also received India’s prestigious Padma Shri Award in 2012, becoming the first Paralympian to be honoured with the award.
Jhajharia recalled his meeting with Dronacharya Awardee coach RD Singh while competing at Sports Day event in school.
"On a college tour, I met RD Singh sir. He is such a gentleman and a great person. I still remember his words when he said, ‘Devendra you are a good player and you will shine one day.’ He decided to give me training," he said.
The unfortunate incident of 1997 which saw Jhajharia lose his left hand, couldn't stop his determination as he made a promise to himself to silence his critics.
With a lump in his throat, he went on to describe his life-changing horrific incident. "I was playing with my friends. While playing, I climbed on a tree. I didn’t realise there is an electric wire passing through the branches of the tree and unfortunately, my hand got in contact with that wire which had 11,000 volt current. I was unconscious. When my friends informed my parents, they came and took me home. They thought I was dead while they were taking me back home. Then they took me to a hospital.
"Fortunately, god saved me but I had to lose my left hand as it was badly injured after the accident," Jhajharia said.
"It was a tough period for me but it was much tougher for my parents. They had to take care of me and also listen to taunts from people. People used to say: 'Abb ye ladka kya karega?’(What will this boy do now?)," he added.
"My mother used to get very sad but she never replied to those people. She took a good care of me. I used to play with my friends but the feeling of doing something in life was there in me. People use to call me ‘weak’ and I wanted to shut their mouths," Jhajharia said as the tears rolled down his eyes.
"One day, I was sitting in the school playground when I saw a boy throwing a javelin. I asked myself – Devendra, can you do this? I rushed to that boy and requested him if I can also try to throw it once. He agreed. And, I threw the javelin for a longer distance than that boy was throwing. He was surprised and said I should give this sport a try.
Now the problem was to arrange a javelin for practice. After a lot of brainstorming, Jhajharia came across an old man who had harpoon for fishing purpose and he somehow arranged that for him and he managed to practice with it.
"I thought a lot about how to start the game for which javelin was needed. I didn’t want to tell my parents about this. They would have stopped me and people would make fun of me. So I decided to convince that man. He agreed to give me his harpoon and I fixed that on a big stick and made it my javelin. It was heavy and seemed to be of better quality than the normal javelins. This is how is started practicing my favourite sport," described Jhajharia.
"Honestly, I didn't want to be called as ‘weak’ and this stubbornness in me took me to the Olympics," he said.
Jhajharia is ready for another glory. He wants to repeat what he did in Athens.
On being asked about his preparations for Rio Games, he said that with the growing age it is getting difficult to maintain the fitness level. “I am trying my best and the fitness factor shouldn’t come in way of my performance. I was 22 when I won the gold in Athens and now I am 35.
When I was 22, I used recover from an injury in maximum 5 or 7 days but now it takes around 20 to 25 days. I have just completed my training in Gandhinagar. I am training hard and avoiding injuries. I will go to Finland in the month of February for training. I will be training there till the Rio Olympics."