Sharad Kumar, who bagged a bronze medal in the Men’s High Jump T42 classification at the Tokyo Paralympics, has had a long and tough journey to the podium. The Patna-born athlete made his international debut back in 2010 at the Asian Para Games in Guangzhou. In 2012, he went on to qualify for the Paralympic Games for the first time, but he could not make it after testing positive for a banned drug. Four years later, in Rio, Sharad finished sixth and saw his friend Varun Bhatti win bronze while Mariyappan Thangavelu clinched gold. That was a result which changed Sharad Kumar’s life completely.
“It feels nice because I was not expecting anything as I was in a bad condition one day before my event. So yes, it is a nice thing that has happened finally. It’s been long due,” said Sharad Kumar.
“My 2016’s failure and my friend finishing on the podium, and seeing what they were getting hit me.”
“After that, I went to Ukraine to train, which turned out to be some serious, intense training. I went to a deserted place to train, it was a very different experience,” he added.
After enduring a heartbreak in Rio, Sharad stepped up his training and moved to Ukraine, where he trained under Nikitin Yevhen and Shallaz Kumar for four years in harsh conditions. Sharad, who had to follow a rigorous training schedule, also shared about his lonesome stay in Ukraine, where he had minimal opportunities to interact with people owing to the language barrier. “The only way to survive there was to train; otherwise, you would have died out of boredom.”
While now it looks as if the sacrifice he made was worth the trouble, it was not the case until the night before the event. Sharad sustained an injury that almost ruled him out of the competition.
“The previous night, I called my family and told them that nothing is going to happen; I would be fortunate if I could participate. The pain I was going through was too much. Later on, after I performed, I called them up and told them, you know what, I am pretty happy that at least it is a bronze,” a visibly relieved Sharad said.
Sharad also revealed how the rain at the time of his event, and a sense of contentment ended up affecting his performance. “It was raining, my knee was bursting with pain but the height was also improving… the only thing I thought was that I had to crack it in the first chance then I will be guaranteed of a medal. I was trying to perform, and maybe that’s what went wrong for me. I was satisfied with the third place and lost my concentration.”
Nonetheless, Sharad was happy, but due to strict restrictions in Tokyo and inside the Olympic Village, just like every other athlete, he has not been able to celebrate his win the way he would have liked. “We have been stuck at our apartments here in Tokyo, and we haven’t been able to go anywhere. We are going to the mess and back to our room. You can’t keep eating.”
“Being a foodie, I have always been very sure of the restaurants I want to visit because there’s one meal in a week that I want to have, a splendid one and very authentic, so that’s a part of my routine to keep myself occupied. I like to visit authentic restaurants, but we cannot go out in Japan; otherwise, I wanted to try their steaks for sure.”
“I don’t compromise with the taste of the food I want, I eat it, and I eat it only in the right amount, and the right amount isn’t dangerous.”
The double Asian Para Games (2014 and 2018) high jump champion was glad that the Tokyo Paralympics happened. “It has been eventful right from the start. Nothing could get bigger than this. Even if someone else, some celebrity, came and said hi, I wouldn’t have cared because that’s possible, but Paralympic Games happening in the covid situation was right next to impossible.”
The postponement of the Tokyo Paralympics meant athletes would get a year less to prepare for Paris 2024 amidst all the other events throughout these three years. However, Sharad insists he needs a break. “I would want to give a break from training for a month for sure. I have had a very monotonous life lately, and that needs to change, because I can’t do this and carry on for the next few years. I am aiming for 2024, but these next three years will be pretty eventful in every athlete’s life.”