From being embroiled in a dope controversy to clinching a gold medal at the Asian Para Games in Incheon, life has come full circle for the high jumper Sharad Kumar. “Before the 2012 Olympics. I was World No. 1 and was sure I would get the Olympic quota. I was 19 then, and was enjoying the newfound success and adulation. All of a sudden the dope controversy struck and my life turned upside down,” said Sharad, remembering the dark days of his career.
The para athlete, whose left leg was affected by polio at the age of two, was banned for two years after testing positive and on June 19 this year, he became eligible to participate again. “I left the SAI campus in Bengaluru to take my college exams in Delhi. My supplements were left in Bengaluru itself and when I went back after my exam there was a dope test, and I tested positive. It was the worst day of my life,” he recalls.
As the saying goes, “Where there is a will, there is a way,” and a determined Sharad continued with his regular fitness regime and qualified for the Asian Para Games in Incheon.
“I approached many people to help me with my practice but no sponsors were ready to back me. They used to say, we cannot take a gamble with a dope accused athlete. Even when my ban was over, I used to train on my own. I have no coach as yet, but my brother’s guidance has helped me a great deal,” says Sharad, who completed his graduation in Political Science from Kirori Mal College in Delhi University. During those testing times, books turned out to be a great source of motivation and gave him enough strength to make a comeback. “I read books... they motivated me. I have been reading so many biographies — Usain Bolt, Lance Armstrong etc. Sometimes when nothing works, books can calm you down. They taught me a lot. So did various motivational videos on the Internet,” he adds.
A positive aspect of the ban was that a motivated Sharad cracked the Jawaharlal Nehru University admission exam and got himself enrolled in a Masters course in international relations. He was also an active member of the university election committee.
“Those were terrible days, but it could have been worse if I had been thinking about it too much. I got my admission in JNU and that has kept me focused and occupied,” he reveals.
Has his disability come in the path of his success? The Bihar lad says, “I simply ignore it. I accept it as a challenge in my life. I know disability is always there, but I want to ignore and overcome it. Earlier, I used to pity myself — It was when a girl rejected my proposal. She told me that she couldn’t accept me because of the way I walk. After that, I never proposed to any other girl,” says the 22-year-old who wants to focus on his career right now.
And it all started in school. “I studied in St Paul’s (Darjeeling) and sports was compulsory there. I got into high jump in Class 7. I competed against able-bodied athletes and broke the school and district records. We have a school teacher called Angelo Denis. He told me about the Paralympics and said that I should give it a try. So, after years of hard work, I finally succeeded with a gold,” he says.
Sharad aspires to perform well at the World Championship in Qatar next year as it will give him a direct entry into the Olympics.
“My ultimate aim is to qualify for the Rio Games. Right now, I am looking forward to seeking government help and aid, and a job to keep myself financially stable.”