Often in life, there are people who help us out when we land ourselves in difficult situations. They selflessly extend a helping hand when we’re in need, from cab drivers who return our belongings if we happen to leave them behind or the folks who give us a lift when our car breaks down. These are the true #UnsungHeroes of our time who deserve our applause for their kindness.
We’ve all at one point or the other heard about sportsmen, in particular, those who have won India laurels in Olympics and the Asian Games (which BTW, are still on and the Indian athletes are doing a fab job). Most of these are now forced to do petty jobs to earn a living. We can’t help but wonder if these sportsmen are celebrated and cared for after the games are over. It’s high time we gave these hardworking and dedicated sportsmen their due credit. Here are some of the hidden gems; the #UnsungHeroes of our time whose achievements have made the entire nation proud.
1. Kaustubh Radkar
Kaustubh is the only Indian who has completed the Ironman triathlon in Athens for a record 20 times. It all started when he was 8 years old and his mother would walk him to the swimming pool daily, which was just a short distance away from his home in Pune. When he saw his peers strutting around in medals, he resolved ‘If they can have it, so can I!’ He then went for his first competitive race in swimming and he finished first every year in the next three years.
Kaustubh revealed how he went against his coach and was courageous enough to make his own decisions:
I didn’t work out as much as the other kids did — I just worked smarter. For instance, I identified the freestyle as my main stroke, so I put in all my energy while at it. I used the other strokes to recover. It makes sense if you think about it, but not many coaches want to have kids making these decisions around them.
As someone who broke conventions and followed his own heart, it seems like Kaustubh’s success was pre-destined. He even represented India in the Asia-Pacific championship. He then participated in the Ironman Triathlon and completed the series for a record 20 times! Now that’s one helluva sportsman!
2. Sita Sahu
Speaking of athletes who left their mark on the world, Sita Sahu is another criminally underrated sportswoman who proved that staying strong in difficult times can take you far. A double special Olympic medalist, (200 m and 4×400 m relay race, 2011) Sita has won laurels for the country like not many people have. Born to a street vendor’s family in Rewa, Sita’s life was full of ups and downs and need I say, she has had a fair share of difficulties.
What’s truly appalling is that even after her win in the Olympics, Sita had to resort to selling Golgappas at her family stall which earned her Rs 150-180 daily. Sita wasn’t even given the cash awards that she was promised. Sita however, still has hopes of returning to athletics. Here’s what she has to say about her return:
We had no money. My career was over, and I couldn’t even think of pursuing studies given my family responsibilities. All that has changed now.
Unlike the previous years, Sita is now receiving help from the state athletes and coaches and is content with her abilities.
3. Devendra Jhajaria
Devendra is the first Paralympic gold medalist to receive the highest sports honor- Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. A truly underrated sportsman, Jhajaria gained popularity in the year 2004 when he won a gold medal for the javelin throw (F46 category). The throw also broke the world record which was 62.15m.
When I won in Athens no one knew me, but I received a lot of support after that. I was honoured with the Arjuna Award and with a Padma Shri, and that motivated me further. When you represent your country there is a desire to give your best without asking for anything in return. But when you get recognition, it fires your ambitions up further,” the Khel Ratna winner said
What came next took the entire country by storm. In the 2016 Rio Games, Jhajaria surpassed his own expectations when he managed a distance of 63.97 m, thereby shattering the world record. Thus, he won the second Paralympic medal. He was also a part of Asian Games Para squad. He wants his victory to be an inspiration for all the Paralympic athletes all over the country. Now that’s the stuff inspiration is made of!
4. Virender Dhankar
Once an army man and a top Kabaddi player, Virender Dhankar met with an accident in 2004 in which he lost his right leg. Instead of losing hope, Dhankar took interest in the Paralympic games. He represented India in Men’s Javelin Throw in the Rio Games 2016. He has also won a gold medal in the world army games, South Korea. There, he set a new benchmark for shot put of 14.47m. What’s more? He even won a gold in 2006 for a powerlifting championship! Is there anything that this man can’t do?
5. Makhan Singh
We’ve all heard of the legendary Milkha Singh. The athlete, who to this day, is celebrated and adored for all that he has done for the nation. Makhan Singh was the athlete who beat Milkha Singh in the 1962 National Games in Calcutta. I bet most of you weren’t aware of this fact! But just like most sportsmen, Makhan Singh’s downward spiral began. This happened when he lost his leg in an unfortunate accident.
His living condition deteriorated and he died in 2002 in utter poverty. Conditions got worse as his wife was forced to pawn his medals to earn money. It pains me to see how Makhan Singh didn’t get the due credit for his hard work and determination.
Reading such stories is bitter-sweet. Sweet, because I feel proud that our nation gave birth to such amazing sportsmen, bitter because none of them got the appreciation that they deserved. Not just in sports, there are many #UnsungHeroes IRL, that we rub shoulders with on a daily basis. Kajaria has come up with a campaign called #UnsungHeroes to appreciate and laud the efforts of these folks. If you too happen to know such #UnsungHeroes who BTW also happen to be #DeshKiShaan, you can submit your entries here. What’s more? One winning story will be turned into a short film. Watch the video to know more about #UnsungHeroes.