Before the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games, my brother Rishabh was loved by us, his family. Now, he is loved by the nation.
I remember the day my baby brother Rishabh was born. It was a difficult day for our family. I was too young then to understand what exactly was wrong, but he was in the intensive care unit for 15 days.
When we eventually took him home, I remember Mum telling my sister Kirti and I that we would have to be gentle with Rishabh and wash our hands whenever we held him. He was such a tiny baby with such pale skin.
Mum and Dad consulted many doctors over the next few months. The doctors said he had a birth defect called microcephaly, where his brain is not fully developed. When Rishabh was six months old, he had to undergo surgery. Mum couldn’t stop crying. We were told that Rishabh’s development would be affected. He would learn slower than other children.
Growing up, it was hard to teach him anything because he struggled to pay attention and was hyperactive. Rishabh didn’t walk until he was two and a half years old. He didn’t speak till he was almost 3, but it was so good to hear didi (older sister in Hindi) from his lips.
I used to spend at least five hours every day teaching him the alphabet and how to count. If he didn’t follow my instructions, I would punish him. But as he grew older, he became more aggressive and had problems controlling his temper.
The children in the neighbourhood called him names like “robot” and “alien”. Some parents told their children to stay away from Rishabh, saying he would harm them as he is “not normal”. When he played cricket with them, they used to make him wait all day for a chance to bat, but his chance would never come. I used to watch this from my room window. Once, I confronted these children and they told me, “We don’t want to play with your pagal (lunatic in Hindi) brother. Take him from here.”
Things got so tough for Rishabh that we decided to move house. We enrolled him in a special education school, and let him stay at the hostel to help him develop better social skills. But the 18 months he spent at the hostel were a challenge for him. He couldn’t get accustomed to the food. His health suffered and he lost a lot of weight. That’s when Mum and Dad decided to take him home.
The turning point for Rishabh came quite by chance when we saw some children skating at a stadium one day. He was eight years old then. It was at the same venue I used to go for my swimming classes. The skating coach there was kind to children and Mum decided to send Rishabh for skating lessons.
He showed a flair for the sport, and within a few months, the coach was sending him for small scale community-level races. A teacher at his school introduced him to Special Olympics in India. He started running daily to build his stamina and trained in inline skating regularly. The International Skating Track was a three-hour drive from where we live, but he tried his best to attend training. On the days that he was unable to go that far, he practised at a nearby school.
Over time, he started taking part in district-level competitions against children without disabilities. He did so well that he has accumulated almost 30 medals over the years. Throughout this journey, we have always been by his side. At every competition, Mum, Dad, Kirti and I are there to cheer him on, make sure his laces are properly tied, and tell him that we believe in him.
Earlier this year, Mum called me while I was at work to inform me that Rishabh had been selected to represent India in skating at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi. I was so overwhelmed with joy that I broke down and cried in front of all my colleagues.
Mum and I took time off to support Rishabh in Abu Dhabi. Watching my 16-year-old brother march into the stadium with the rest of the India contingent during the Opening Ceremony of the Games was an experience beyond words. We were so proud.
Abu Dhabi was an unforgettable experience for all of us. Rishabh clinched the gold medal in the 1,000-metre race and bronze medals in the 2×100-metre relay and 300-metre races. When Mum shared the news with our friends and relatives, the accolades flooded in. The same people who had told us we were wasting our time on Rishabh could now see his transformation through sports and wanted to know how they could also get their children involved in similar programs.
Before the World Games, my brother was loved by us, his family. Now, he is loved by the nation. Special Olympics has given him the chance to be recognized and respected. I will continue to help my brother to help others. He now has the power to inspire others, and show the world that nothing is impossible.