Playing To Win: Paralympian Pramod Bhagat

Nov 17, 2021, 12:19 IST

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Photograph: Charudutt Chitrak

The Winning Way

They did the country proud at the Tokyo Paralympics. Not content to rest on their laurels, they are already gearing up for the 2024 Paris Paralympics. We present to you the para-athletes who have overcome the toughest challenges to keep shining bright.


Playing To Win: Pramod Bhagat
Undeterred by his polio-affected left leg, ace para shuttler Pramod Bhagat won gold for the country at the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo. He talks of his dreams, work and beliefs

Reigning world champion. Paralympics gold medalist. Arjuna awardee. One to create history several times over. It is not often that we can attach these tags to a single person. But, when we are talking of a Paralympian like Pramod Bhagat, it is apparent that he is exceptional. The four-time world champion created history on September 4, 2021, by becoming the first Indian to ever win gold in badminton at the 2020 Summer Paralympics.

Born in the Vaishali district in Bihar, Bhagat is now a resident of Bhubaneswar in Odisha, to which he returned from Tokyo to a hero’s welcome, amid the beats of dhols and cheers. He is currently ranked world no. 1 in the para badminton men’s singles in the SL3 (standing/lower limb impairment/minor) class.

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Photograph: Charudutt Chitrak

“When I received the medal, my first thought was about how my parents had always wished that I became a good individual and made my nation proud. And that I had finally done that. I was very happy. Although they are not alive anymore, I suddenly remembered them and knew that, wherever they are right now, they would be looking down at me and feeling proud,” he says. Bhagat lost his father in 2006 shortly after he represented Odisha for the first time in the 2006 Nationals. He lost his mother last year to COVID.

“When I received the medal, my first thought was about how my parents had always wished that I became a good individual and made my nation proud. And that I had finally done that. I was very happy.” – Pramod Bhagat 

Having developed a disability in his left leg due to polio, Bhagat faced a series of adversities. He has also worked as a fan mechanic to support his family. The sport of badminton caught his attention at the age of 13, and his fascination led him to play it. His extraordinary abilities were proven when he won a district-level tournament against able-bodied players, and he took the opportunity to move to para-badminton. He recalls that he was in the fifth standard when he came to know about para-badminton. “In 2009, I became the youngest champion to win the World Championship and, since then, it was my dream to go to the Paralympics and make my nation proud by bringing home the gold medal,” he mentions.

It was a dream he worked relentlessly on over the years to realise. Bhagat got his chance at the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo this year, when badminton was introduced as a competitive sport for the first time. He grabbed the opportunity, and the rest is glorious history.

“I was not able to feel the happiness I wanted to at my success (his nomination for the Arujuna Awards), because the pressure of playing in the World Championship lay ahead.” – Pramod Bhagat 

Over the years, apart from proving his mettle and bettering his game, Bhagat has learnt a lot from his journey. He remembers an incident from 2019 when he was in Switzerland for the World Championship. It was then that he came to know of his nomination for the Arjuna Awards, something completely unexpected. “I was not able to feel the happiness I wanted to at my success, because the pressure of playing in the World Championship lay ahead. I had to remain calm and focus, and I did. It paid off, I performed very well in both the singles and doubles games and won the World Championship for both. Upon returning, I also won the Arjuna Award!”

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Photograph: Charudutt Chitrak

Taking the difficulties that come his way in his stride, Bhagat is open enough to acknowledge that while every athlete faces hurdles, his share was perhaps a bit larger than others’. The key factor that made the difference in him tiding over the troubles was that he was able to be patient, taking each day as it came, learning with every step how to handle the pressures of a critical situation. A huge fan of the iconic Sachin Tendulkar, Bhagat has openly mentioned that inspired by the cricketer’s on-field demeanour, he was able to develop his ability to stay focused and calm under pressure.

“My biggest motivation has always come from the people who have supported me, who have believed in me and encouraged me to march ahead to achieve this big dream.
” – Pramod Bhagat
 

Bhagat is quick to clarify that it is not hurdles that define experiences; the support of those who are important is what matters. “My biggest motivation has always come from the people who have supported me, who have believed in me and encouraged me to march ahead to achieve this big dream,” he says. Not for nothing has he emerged as one of the best para shuttlers in the country (and the world) with 45 international medals under his belt. These include four World Championship gold medals and a gold and a bronze in the 2018 Asian Para Games, besides the latest Paralympics gold.

“Be cool, keep making an effort, use your mind actively, and success will definitely be yours.” – Pramod Bhagat 

He wants to pay it forward in spirit to those who are looking to become athletes or are athletes marching ahead. “To them, I have only one thing to say: be cool, keep making an effort, use your mind actively, and success will definitely be yours.” Marching ahead is also something that Bhagat is focused on, admitting that now that he has received so much love and motivation from the country, his dreams have become bigger. He smiles, calling it human nature.

“I will train for the 2024 Paris Paralympics and I would definitely like to once again hoist the Indian tricolour.” His life a testimony to light at the end of the tunnel, Bhagat mentions that, when he thinks about light, he is reminded of the appreciation and support he has received. “Light is being happy,” he sums up.


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