All my life, I’ve been little. I was born smaller than other babies. I learnt slower than others. While other children spoke their first words in their first or second year, it took me double the time. Even today, as a 15-year-old, I am much smaller in stature compared to other teenagers. People who don’t know me think I’m still a child.
Growing up, I attended a mainstream school but struggled to cope. School was a confusing and disconcerting place for me. I hardly spoke and had no friends. I cried every day on my way to school. It became so difficult that my parents eventually took me out of school. For the next five years, I stayed at home. In the small town where I live, in the state of Haryana, there are few options for children like me.
When I was 6, Dad died, leaving Mum to take care of my younger brother and I. Mum sold tea to make ends meet. She put up with so much to make sure we survived, not just financially but emotionally too. Callous remarks from neighbours did not help. One time, I fell while playing, and a neighbour commented, “Your son has no brain, he can’t speak, and now he has even hurt himself.”
The comment hurt Mum deeply, but it made her determined to find a school where I would be accepted. Eventually, she found the Vatsalya Special School, for children with intellectual disabilities. Although she could not afford the school fees, it never stopped Mum from fighting to give me the best she could. The school agreed to waive the fees, enabling me to continue my education.
There, I was introduced to sports through the Special Olympics movement. I took to skating and swimming. Sports has changed my life. It taught me discipline and gave me confidence. While I never dared to leave the house on my own before, I am now independent enough to go to school and training by myself.
My teacher Mr Chandrahas Sharma became my coach and mentor. When Mum couldn’t afford the sports equipment needed for my training, Coach Sharma helped to get us subsidies. Because of his encouragement and unwavering belief in me all this time, I had the opportunity to take part in competitions. Whenever I won a medal, I always took it to Dad’s photo to make sure he could see it, in heaven. I hope he’s proud of me.
Recently, I represented India in short track speed skating at the 2020 Special Olympics Invitational Games held in Sweden. More than 450 athletes from 19 countries took part. It’s beyond my wildest dreams that I would one day be good enough to step onto the international stage and be celebrated for what I love best – sports.
I wanted so badly to do my mum proud, and I did. I left the Games with two Gold medals. It was incredible. I was celebrated like a hero when I returned home, at school and in the community.
As I was hoisted on the shoulders of my coaches and team-mates, I felt like a giant. I’m tiny no more.