Rifle shooter Avani Lekhara’s coach Chandra Shekhar, who has been training her at the JDA Range in Jagatpura since 2016, says that the 19-year-old para-athlete’s success at the Tokyo Paralympic Games is due to her “temperament", “intelligence" and “extraordinary talent", which he has seen in very few athletes.
The 19-year-old para shooter clinched her second medal in Tokyo, a bronze, in women’s 50m rifle 3P SH1 event on Friday. Avani had earlier won the gold medal in women’s 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 with a world-record equalling score of 249.6.
“I can’t believe that a person, who has suffered such a terrible mishap, can come to terms with life and excel on such a big stage and be a motivation for thousands of people," Shekhar told IANS from Jaipur.
“Avani’s father was posted in the Karauli district of Rajasthan and was returning with the family on the day of Shivratri in 2012 when they met with an accident. Since then, Avani has spent life on a wheelchair," said Shekhar.
“When she was first brought to me in 2016, my first question was whether she was keen to take up shooting or was she doing it because her parents wanted her to take up the sport. Only after I got a positive feedback, I started training her and I was surprised with her keen sense of learning and intelligence. She is a master of technique now and can teach the best in the business," asserted Shekhar.
“Before she left for Tokyo for the Paralympic Games, we were certain that Avani will win two gold and one more medal of any colour. Avani has won a gold and bronze and will be next seen in action on Sunday in the mixed 50m rifle prone SH1 event. So, I suppose one more gold is due," said the coach.
The coach said that her parents too have worked really hard to ensure that their daughter gets the best training and fitness levels for her to excel at this level.
“It’s not easy to carry such heavy equipment. But her mother is a pillar of strength for her, lugging her equipment wherever she trains or competes in the world. Her father, Praveen Lekhara, has moved the family closer to the JDA Range in Jaipur so that Avani’s training doesn’t suffer. They stay barely 100m away from the range, which has made training easy for the 19-year-old," says Shekhar.
The coach said that training a para-athlete brings with it several challenges and conceded that initially he too had to learn a lot of things before he could coach Avani.
“I started with a Feinwerkbau junior model gun with a wooden stock in 2016 as Avani wouldn’t have been able to take the weight of a top competition rifle. Her father and Mr JP Nautiyal (national coach) got the modifications done to her wheelchair to make it compatible for international shooting. And within months of starting shooting she had won a gold in the 2016 Nationals.
Shekhar says it has been a journey of learning not just for Avani, but for her family and him as well as the para shooter continues to make a huge statement in Tokyo. He adds that Avani’s exploits will not end with the Tokyo success. “She is too committed and too motivated and will keep coming back to win more medals at the showpiece event."