Mumbai: Avani Lekhara has created history and how! Not only did the uber-talented sportsperson win gold at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, she also set a Paralympic record while equalling the world record. All of 19, the Jaipur native scored an impressive 249.6 in the 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1.
Speaking from Tokyo, the gold medallist says, "I just stay in the present. I was thinking about one shot at a time today. I dedicate this win for my entire country!" Ranked fifth in the world, Avani will also complete in three other categories at the Paralympic Games: mixed air rifle pone, 50m Rifle 3 positions and mixed 50m rifle prone. What makes her win even more special was that this is her maiden appearance at the event.
"I feel so happy and grateful right now for this medal. I can't explain how I feel. I am on top of the world. This is just the start. I have a lot of competition days ahead and more medals to come. I have three more matches and am focusing on them and giving my best," an elated Avani adds.
However, Avani has had quite a whirlwind of a journey. At merely 11, she met with a horrific car accident that completely paralysed her below the waist. The days and nights seemed like a never-ending labyrinth of pain and medications. However, her father, Praveen instilled hope and showed her the path she now aces. Even though she's shy and reserved and had also been dabbling in archery, Avani took up shooting in 2015 after chancing upon the autobiography of Abhinav Bindra titled A Shot at History. She considers him her idol. Avani began training in 2018 at Suma Shirur's Lakshya Shooting Club in Karnala Sports Academy in Panvel. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges it brought upon, Avani kept at it by training at home. Supported by GoSports and TOPS, Avani was not made to feel any different from the other shooters at the club and is the darling of everyone there.
Suma was there with Avani every step of the way and is pleased with her performance. "This was the ultimate goal, and I had to be with Avani. I am delighted that she has won gold, and it was all worth the effort. We have been preparing Avani for the last couple of years with skill and technical aspects. But in Paralympics, it is how well you can manage your emotions, how well you perform technically under pressure," Suma shares.
Suma went on to speak about the exact moment the magic happened. " Converting fear to courage was her mantra. The start was very, very tough. I was sitting behind her, had to go in a couple of times, and gave her many encouraging words. After 20 shots, she got the courage. It took time, but she did not give up. She believed in herself and fought it out. Ultimately the inner desire to win has seen her climb on top of the podium," Suma adds.
This isn't the first time Avani has made India beam with pride. She won a bronze medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup in Bangkok, 2017 and two silvers in the successive two World Cups in Osijek (Croatia) in 2019 and Al Ain (UAE) this year.