"Main kamzor nahi kehlana chahta tha (I didn't want to be known as a weakling)."
Devendra Jhajharia's greatest fear, as an 11-year-old whose left arm had been amputated below the elbow after an accident involving a high-voltage wire, was that he would be considered weak, an object of ridicule.
But there was only praise for Jhajharia when he stood top of the podium at the Rio Paralympics on September 14. Just a few minutes earlier he had flung an 800gm object across 63.97m to win gold in the javelin throw F46 category -- the division meant for athletes with unilateral limb impairment affecting the shoulder and/or elbow joint of one arm. Jhajharia had not just won gold, he had improved on his personal best in the event, recorded 12 years before.
Back at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, Jhajharia, then 24, had won his first Paralympic gold medal with a throw of 62.15m. That gold was only the second won by an Indian at the Paralympics. Indeed, Jhajharia has won two of the total of four gold medals won by Indians at the Paralympics.
The athlete from Churu, Rajasthan, would probably have added to that number but for his disability category being excluded from the 2008 and 2012 editions of the Games. That, however, didn't stop him from being a pathbreaker for athletes with disabilities in India.
He also won a gold medal at the 2013 World Para Championships and a silver at the 2015 edition of that event. Jhajharia's achievements have been recognized with the 2004 Arjuna Award and a Padam Shri in 2012 - making him the first para-athlete to be thus honoured.
Jhajharia said that the Rio Games were to be his last. If so, the gold at Rio was perhaps the perfect way to sum up a career filled with staggering accomplishments. For someone who was once ostracized because of his disability and struggled to fit in, Jhajharia has certainly challenged perceptions and left an indelible mark on Indian athletics in doing so.