By Niharika Gunturu
Sporting events for the differently abled were widely introduced after World War II as a means to assist war veterans with rehabilitation. The journey of ‘para’ sport from being a rehabilitation sport, to recreational sport and eventually a competitive sport has been a long one, particularly in the context of the Olympics. Nevertheless, from the inaugural edition in Rome in 1960, the Paralympics have come a long way.
Today we have para-athletes like Natalie Du Toit (swimming, South Africa), Natalya Partika (table tennis, Poland), Abdelattif Baka (middle-distance running, Algeria) and Melissa Tapper (table tennis, Australia) who’ve successfully crossed over to the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, even setting world records for the same! While most para-athletes can nonchalantly outperform the average ‘able-bodied’ human, their recent forays into the Olympics and other mainstream sporting events have served as a watershed moment in changing the public perception of physical disabilities. The Paralympics, among other sporting events, provides a great platform to showcase not only their sheer sporting brilliance but also serve as a testament to their (super)human perseverance. Indeed, as the para-athletes put it, ‘It’s all about ability’.
Closer to home, among the foothills of the Shillong and the banks of the Brahmaputra, the 53rd edition of the Inter IIT Sports Meet at IIT Guwahati will go down in history for being the first edition to include a para-sport event – Paralympic Powerlifting.
Paralympic Powerlifting, often contracted to Para Powerlifting or just Para Lifting is an adaptation of the sport of powerlifting for athletes with disabilities. While Powerlifting has been a part of the Summer Paralympics since 1984, it was only from the 1992 Barcelona games that the sport took the form in which it is played today. It was decided to restrict Para Powerlifting to the bench press and exclude weightlifting so that the game could be more uniform for all its participants. The first female participation in the sport took place at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. The recent Rio 2016 games saw over 180 athletes competing for 20 medal events in the sport. All the athletes compete in the same sports class but are divided into 10 different bodyweight categories for both women and men – bringing up the medals at stake to 20.
The bench press is the sport’s single discipline, and the World Para Powerlifting sets the guidelines for all the equipment to be used therein. The bench specifically, must be 2.1m long, 61cm wide narrowing to 30cm at the head, and 48 to 50 cm high from the ground.
The scenes of the sport are as follows. The lifter receives the bar at arm’s length and then waits for the Chief Referee’s signal with locked elbows and the bar under control. Upon receiving the ‘start’ signal, the lifter must lower the bar to the chest, hold it visibly motionless on the chest and then press it upwards evenly, with an even equal extension of both the arms with locked elbows. When held motionless and controlled in this position, the audible signal “rack” shall be given and the bar is returned to the rack. An immediate decision is then given by the three referees through a system of white and red lights. Two or more white lights signify a good lift and two or more red lifts reflect a no lift.
An ultimate test of upper body strength, the world record for the sport, both set at Rio, for women (over 86 kg) and men (over 107 kg) is 160 kg and 310 kg respectively!
We caught up with insti’s Para Lifting trio – Ajitesh, Kuldeep and Sohail, all of whom began their tryst with the sport after coming to the institute. ‘I used to go to the gym for fitness, and that was when I got to know that this year’s inter IIT was going to include Para Powerlifting. So I contacted the coach there and started practicing’ says Sohail, a second year ME DD student. His teammate Ajitesh, also a second year (MM BTech), echoed the same experience, adding that a turning point in his journey thus far was when – ‘I got scolded by my coach. I used to do extra workouts to build my strength but many times, I ended up injuring myself. Since that day, I began following my coach’s guidance to the T. Apart from that, our team used to practice with the institute weightlifting team, and they helped us to a great extent.’ Sohail adds that the day he received his IITM T-Shirt for the sport was a surreal moment, and also wishes that more students participate in the sport to enhance the quality of the competition.
All three feel that being a part of the contingent and being able to represent IITM is a matter of great honor and excitement, with Ajitesh giving us a closing quote ‘The Institute Para Lifting team is strong enough to bring at least one or two medals this time, and I think that is a great start. I hope to do my best and get a medal for my IIT, but most importantly, I want my IIT to win the General Championship and I think we will do that as we are #9000 strong’.
T5E was informed about the results of the para powerlifting event at the time of publication. Sohail won silver in the ‘Under 54 kg’ weight category, Kuldeep won gold in the ‘Under 65 kg’ weight category and Ajitesh won silver in the ‘Above 65 kg’ weight category. T5E congratulates all three contingent members for their wonderful performance at the first para-sport event in Inter IIT history.