After being trained in the sport, his disability has reduced to 26% from 30%.

 Indias only para-climber has won the country 11 medals with almost no fundingImage: Manikandan
news Sport Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - 18:48

Having won three golds, seven silvers and a bronze for India in para-climbing, 29-year-old Manikandan Kumar –sadly- still awaits official recognition as an athlete by the Indian government.

This Bengaluru-based ace-climber is the country’s only para-athlete to have won 11 medals in the sport at the international level. But neither financial support from the government nor a corporate sponsor has till date stepped forward to fund his ‘climbing’ dreams.

With climbing being officially proposed as a new sporting event to be included in the 2020 Paralympics to be held in Tokyo, the state of Karnataka is sure to steal the limelight, as Manikandan is the only Indian para-climber qualified enough to contend in the prestigious Games.

Unfortunately, the state government is yet to even consider him eligible for the Ekalavya award.

Manikandan was affected by polio at the age of five, leaving his right leg weaker than his left. “I was diagnosed with 30 % disability, as the portion below the right hip is weak,” he says, while speaking to The News Minute.

Ask him how he discovered climbing, he smiles: “I started climbing when I was 15. I developed a liking for the sport after attending an adventure camp organized by the Association for People with Disability in my school. A few trainers who were there saw me and advised me to take up climbing.”

As someone who was fascinated by sports from a very young age, Manikandan or Mani as he is affectionately called, focused on building his physical strength, while simultaneously figuring out how to optimize the use of his remaining three limbs.

“I used to play football and cricket while in school. I was in the habit of lifting my polio-affected leg using my right hand, whenever I had to climb. But over a period of time, I un-learnt this restricting technique. I could do so, only by telling myself that if I really wanted to achieve something in life, I would not let my disability be an obstacle in my path forward. My level of disability has now reduced to 26% in a matter of just a few years,” Mani shares.

Keerthi Pais –the only coach he has ever had- not only trained him from 2002-09, but also provided him with food and shelter and even gave him a small stipend as an incentive for Mani to work for him.

While the stipend helped him overcome poverty that had earlier been an overwhelming hindrance to pursuing his passion, Mani faced an even bigger hurdle in the form of parental opposition. His parents were so much against his taking up climbing as a career that he had no choice but to not to inform his family, when he first went abroad to represent India.

“I have studied upto Class X. Immediately after passing out of school, I started training hard in this sport. The rigorous training was a huge confidence-booster, but my parents were not convinced until very recently. Even when I first went abroad to represent Indian in 2012, I told them that I was going to a friend’s house. They had no clue until the media came to interview them,” he recalls.

When Mani is not competing, he prefers to train people either at Bengaluru’s Kanteerava Stadium or at privately organized adventure camps. The money he obtains from these is his only source of livelihood.

“Since 2009, I have been training climbers myself in order to eke out a living,” he says.

Every competition that is held abroad alone costs him close to Rs 2 lakhs. The General Thimmaiah Academy of Adventure sometimes comes forward to sponsor the air fare, while he resorts to crowd-funding to meet all other expenditure incurred.

Mani is now training hard with an eye on the 2020 Paralympics. But as of now, all he wants is a ‘regular’ sponsor who will help him train for the 2017 World ParaAthletics Championships to be held in London.

 

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