Inspired to take up the sport of shooting after reading Indian Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra’s autobiography ‘A Shot At History: My Obsessive Journey to Olympic Gold’, 19-year-old Avani Lekhara etched her name in the history books herself becoming India’s first women para-athlete to claim a gold medal at the Paralympic Games, with no less than a world record-equaling effort in Women’s 10m Air Rifle. Avani who works as an Assistant Conservator of Forests in Rajasthan and trains at the JDA Shooting Range in Jaipur, shot 621.7 points to finish seventh in qualification and secure a place in the final. She has been wheelchair-bound since a road accident in 2012. The school topper believes life is not about holding good cards but playing well with those one holds.
“I can’t describe this feeling, I’m feeling like I’m on top of the world. It’s unexplainable," she told PTI after the triumph. On staying calm through the final, Lekhara said, “I was just saying one thing, that I have to take one shot at a time. There’s nothing else that matters now, just take one shot at a time and just finish it. “I just think that I have to follow the process. Beyond that, I try not to think about the score or the medal tally.
“I’m so happy I could be the one to contribute it. Hopefully there’s a lot of medals more to come." She has not looked back since firing her first shot some six years ago, enjoying every bit of the precision sport while working her way to glory at the showpiece. “It seems very homely when I lift a rifle. I feel a connection towards it. When you have to focus and the consistency, that’s what I like about shooting," she said.
Avani has won many World Cup medals since 2017 including a Silver with a Junior World Record in R2 at the WSPS World Cup 2017, bronze at the WSPS World Cup Bangkok 2017, silver in the WSPS World Cup in Osijek, Croatia 2019 and silver in the WSPS World Cup Al-Ain 2021. She won the Tokyo Paralympics quota in February 2019 in the UAE.
Since 2017, Government has supported Avani by including her in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) besides funding her training through the Annual Calendar for Training and Competition (ACTC). Thanks to such support, she has competed in 12 international competitions, attended National Coaching Camps with sports science support along with a sports kit. She also got financial assistance to install a computerized digital target at home, Air Rifle, ammunition, and accessories.
Avani will be in action again in the R3 Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH1 event, along with Siddhartha Babu and Deepak, on September 1. She will also take part in the R8 Women’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions SH1 on September 3 as well as the R6 Mixed 50m Air Rifle prone SH1 event, alongside Siddhartha and Deepak, on September 5.
Speaking in 2020 to the Times of India, she said that the COVID-19 pandemic had not only affected her shooting training but was having an impact on her essential physiotherapy routine. “As someone with a spinal cord disability, I don’t have any feeling below my waist. I still need to exercise my legs every day. I used to have a physio who would come to my home daily to help me exercise and stretch my legs. Since then it’s my parents who have to help me with those exercises. They do the best they can. My physiotherapist has to travel from across Jaipur [India] to come to where I stay. It’s a long way for her to travel. For shooting training, as I can’t do live firing at home, I am doing a lot of dry firing and wall holding which we can do without pellets and ammunition. And these will also build my core muscles.
Avani Lekhara Profile
Date of Birth: 8th November 2001
Native: Jaipur, Rajasthan
Sports: Para Shooting
Events: Women’s 10m Air Rifle SH1, Mixed 10m air Rifle Prone SH1, Mixed 50m Rifle Prone SH1,Women’s 50m 3 Position
Training Base: JDA Shooting Range Jaipur and home Range
Personal Coach: Shuma Shirur
National Coach: Subhash Rana
International debut: 2017 at the World Cup at Al Ain, UAE
World Rank 5 in R2 and 6 in R8
Silver Medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup AIA in 2021
Silver Medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup in Osijek, Croatia 2019
Silver Medal with Junior World Record in R2 in the WSPS World Cup AIA in 2017
Bronze Medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup Bangkok 2017
Why this sport?
Her father encouraged her to get involved in a sport, and she initially tried both shooting and archery. She found she enjoyed shooting more, and was also inspired by Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra after reading his book.