Sports

Padma Shri Awardee Gaurav Khanna Charts Indian Para-Badminton's Journey From Scratch To Silverware

Under Gaurav Khanna's mentorship, the Indian para-badminton team bagged 21 medals at the Asian Para Games 2023 in Hangzhou

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Indian para-badminton coach Gaurav Khanna Photo: X/ Gaurav Khanna
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Para-sport is on the rise in India, as proved by its success during the Hangzhou Asian Games.

After athletics, para-badminton has also managed to make a great impression lately, bagging 21 medals in Hangzhou last year.

With many wondering what has led to such transformation of India's para-badminton, much of the credit goes to coach Gaurav Khanna, a Dronacharya awardee and now also a Padma Shri winner.

Born on December 11, 1975, Khanna, who was an avid badminton fan and wanted to become a player, suffered twin setbacks early in his career, losing his legs in a span of four years.

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However, his dream did not end there as he followed his passion and stuck to badminton, guiding other athletes like him to take up the sport.

Talking about his journey, Khanna revealed the obstacles he faced, besides wanting to help differently-abled kids.

"Following the operation (on the knee) in 1996, my professional career ended," he told PTI during an exclusive interaction.

"After my first RPS (Rajasthan Police Service) posting in 1998, I came across some kids wearing implants. But, I was told that they were unsocial elements and were mainly involved in pick-pocketing.

"Still, I talked to them (kids), learned sign language and even bought racquets for them."

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Although he might have brought para-badminton into the limelight in the country with his passion and dedication, it was not an easy task.

He asserted that he had to start from scratch and build a strong grassroots level, while also thanking former Uttar Pradesh sports minister Chetan Chauhan for helping him out.

"I realised that there was no proper or solid grassroots system in Indian para-badminton. I called up everyone, began a camping system, and also played in sports college in Lucknow with the help of Chetan Chauhan," he said.

But the challenge was still not over. Before building his own Paralympic house, Khanna struggled to set up his base, moving to a couple of places with inadequate conditions, besides struggling to get proper accommodations for the differently-abled players.

"We started delivering performances despite the shabby conditions, and after we roped in some sponsors, we moved to another place," he said.

"However, things were not smooth there either. We also faced issues in terms of accommodations and food from owners in rental accommodations."

The nightmare was over after he set up the Drona Paralympic House in Lucknow, which has now become the ultimate destination for para-badminton players.

His academy has already attracted over 800 medals through its talented and well-trained athletes, which also includes more than 200 golds.

"The journey was turbulent, but it's all well if the end is well. Somewhere, when you do something, you have to justify it to everyone," he added.

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Indian para-athletes have outperformed the abled athletes to everyone's surprise in both the Para-Asian Games and Para-Olympics lately.

However, Khanna was not surprised, besides believing that the differently-abled athletes can easily be accommodated within the society if one has the right perception.

"We can complain, all we want is how to accommodate the differently-abled. It's just our perception," he continued.

"If you look at them, they are champions, superheroes, medal winners. They are giving you more mileage and respect for your country."

Having trained and produced top players like Pramod Bhagat, Rohit Bhaker, Nilesh Gaikwad, Abu Hubaida and many more, Khanna also credited the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for their unparalleled support, terming him a 'guardian'.

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"I'm so satisfied with how things are progressing, and the credit goes to the government and the honourable Prime Minister of the country, who is giving so much attention to para-athletes.

"He gives his best to them before departure, talks to them when they win medals and gives them a party upon their return. He is like a guardian to them," he signed off.

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