Girisha Unbound

The differently abled boy, India’s first London Paralympics medal-winner, realised his sporting prowess when he jumped over a barbed wire fence to escape a stick-wielding father.


It was a desperate bid to escape a thrashing by his father that helped Paralympics silver medallist H N Girisha discover that he could jump really high. Since he had a deformity in his leg, his parents were overprotective and wouldn’t let him play. But the naughty boy would defy them, spending most of his time playing in the fields with his friends. One day, when he was six, his father spotted him playing, and reached for a stick to spank him. Young Girisha started running, the father in hot pursuit. Before he knew it, the boy found himself facing the barbed wire at the edge of the field. To his father’s shock, instead of stopping, his son leapt right.


“Girisha tells us that the incident changed his life. After this one jump he realised his strength was high jump, and he has been practising since that day,” his mother Jayamma told Talk. Despite his disability, Girisha would easily jump over wires and ropes, to the amazement of his playmates, none of whom could match him. “He used to tie a rope in the courtyard and jump over it. He often dragged his younger brother Satish along and ask him to do similar jumps. Satish would fall, and then the two would end up fighting,” recalls Jayamma with amusement.


Girisha’s mother recalls how her first son’s birth brought a mix of joy and sorrow. “His father’s brother has only daughters, our eldest too is a daughter. While we were happy to finally have a son, we were saddened to find he was deformed,” she says.


The concerned family wouldn’t let him play or run around fearing he would hurt himself. But the boy was adamant, and went on to make hisfamily proud by bringing India its first medal at London Paralympics by winning the high jump silver in a career-best performance.


Born into an impoverished farm labourer’s family, Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda studied at a school in his village Hosanagara in Hassan district. Jayamma says the credit for his success ought to go to his teachers, who encouraged him and took sent him to take part in sports meets, where he had to compete with able-bodied participants. “His teachers never discriminated against him. From the fourth standard onwards, they have been taking him for sports events, which he kept winning, at the district and state level. While we as parents were scared that he would get hurt, his teachers never held him back,” she says.


When Girisha joined college, he represented Mysore University. His brother Satish recalls an occasion when Girisha faced opposition from his competitors who were no match for him. “At a university event, there some competitors said that he should compete only at meets held for the disabled. But the university backed Girisha and he continued to represent it and win medals,” Satish says.


According to Satish, it was his brother’s dream to compete in the Olympics, but its eligibility criteria did not allow him to do so. Girisha didn’t qualify for the Beijing Paralympics, and had since set his eyes on London, says Satish.


His family’s money worries meant he couldn’t focus on sports full-time, and was forced to take up a job. Between 2008 and 2010, he underwent BPO and soft skills training at Samarthana, an NGOthat works with the differently abled. He then took up a job with ING Vysya Bank, which eventually gave him a sponsorship of Rs 80,000 so he could make it to the Paralympics qualifying round in Kuwait. Not one to disappoint, Girisha returned with a gold medal.


Paralympics he had to keep away from work, but couldn’t get more than two months’ leave. So he had to give up his job to train full-time under Evgeny Nikitin, a Ukrainian trainer employed with Sports Authority of India’s South Centre in Bangalore, and national-record holding high-jumper Sahana Kumari.


Speaking to the media, Girisha’s father Nagarajegowda recalled how when the doctor told him his son needed surgery to correct his deformity, he had two emotions: fear and worry. He refused to get Girisha operated upon because he couldn’t afford it, and also because he didn’t what would happen to him after the surgery. The emotional father had said, “I never expected my son could do this. Now I know I made a huge mistake. Look at him, he has made us proud.”


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