Comfortably numb: Sandeep Chaudhary soothes physical pain with Para Games gold


Sandeep Chaudhary pictured the moment several times in his head. He had made elaborate mental notes of the numerous ways he would celebrate and hit rewind as he walked into the stadium in Jakarta on Monday.

But, when his dream finally came true, he was numbed beyond belief.

"If it was only a gold medal, I would have maybe felt I should have chased a world record too. But I've got everything I could wish for," says Sandeep, 22, who brought home India's first gold medal at this year's Asian Para Games in Jakarta, setting a new world record in javelin throw.

"When I saw the medal around my neck, I forgot about all the post-victory plans I had made."

Sandeep, who is supported by the non-profit GoSports Foundation, returned to his room at the Athletes Village to an avalanche of congratulatory messages and a phone that just would not stop ringing.

"Bas phone uthate rahe dair raat tak, phir thak ke so gaye (I was answering phone calls late into the night and then grew tired and fell asleep)."

It was not how Sandeep had planned for the medal celebrations to go.

With a best throw of 60.01m in his third attempt, he broke the existing world record in the F44 category (for para athletes affected by limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired passive range of movement and competing without prosthesis) set by China's Mingjie Gao in 1980.

"This time the level of competition was a whole new level. To top such a tough field was doubly satisfying," Sandeep, who hails from Sonepat, Haryana, says. The best throw of the fourth-placed athlete at the Asian Para Games - 58.38m - would have been enough to fetch a gold at the Rio Paralympics two years ago.

When Sandeep was 12, a left hip injury which went untreated led to pus formation in the joint. It had to be surgically removed so that it did not spread to other parts of his body. As a fallout, his mobility was affected. He dabbled in a variety of sports, primarily badminton and volleyball. It was only in 2014 that he picked up the javelin. His physiotherapy was overseen by Shrikant Iyengar and trainer Rajveer Choudhary who he was introduced to by GoSports.

"Most male members in my family, including my father and brother worked in the armed forces but somehow they felt I would be the guy who would bring pride to the family. I'm glad I have been able to live up to their hopes."

His coach Nawal Singh started out by getting Sandeep to do walking and standing sessions for a while before he could train for run-ups or even hold a javelin.

"When Sandeep came to me, he was not in a very good shape in terms of his physical condition. His mobility was quite restricted so my first task with just getting him used to movement," Nawal says.

In two years' time, the results began to show. Sandeep won gold at the 2016 Berlin Open para athletics and the Fazza IPC athletics GP and finished fourth at the Rio Paralympics. This year, he finished with a silver medal at the Handisport Open.

Nawal, who briefly worked with Asian and Commonwealth Games champion Neeraj Chopra as well as para athletes like Deepa Malika and Amit Saroha, says he paid special attention to penciling in Sandeep's training schedule.

"It is a tightrope walk. You don't want to aggravate an existing condition by getting an athlete to train more than his body can take. His is a joint condition so it can be very delicate."

In executing the release of the javelin, the hips play a crucial role. Throwers have to work up a whip-like shift of momentum from hips, to shoulder to elbows to javelin, even as they line up the spear tip with their eyes. It has also been an area of focus for Sandeep: to be able to use his hips more effectively.

"It was missing in his technique in Rio two years ago. We fixed it over the last couple of months and even had an off-season training session in Finland and it has all added up in fetching him the scores that it did."

Now that the calls have petered down and the win has sunk in, Sandeep is feverishly making holiday plans. Bali is the obvious choice for proximity of location.

"I want to shop till I drop just like I'd promised myself I would."

This time, he doesn't want to bungle up the dream.