Dhanush Srikanth. (By Arrangement)
When 19-year-old Dhanush Srikanth from Hyderabad won gold in the men’s 10m air rifle championship in the ongoing 24th Deaflympics in Brazil, his mentor Gagan Narang’s joy knew no bounds. This is the first time Dhanush is taking part in this category of the Deaflympics. "That makes it even more special and it is truly a historic moment," says Gagan, himself an Olympic bronze winner, and founder of the Gun for Glory Shooting Academy.
"We were all following the match and when the news broke, the first thing I did was put it out in our academy’s What’sApp group," Gagan said. He, along with coach Neha Chavan, has been training and mentoring Dhanush since 2015.
Giving us the back story, Gagan says Dhanush’s mother, Asha Srikanth, came to the Academy and said she wanted her son to train there. "Sure, why not?" Gagan replied. That was when Asha said "But there’s a problem; my son is speaking- and hearing-impaired."
Though he was a little surprised, it didn’t stop Gagan from taking on the youngster. "Training Dhanush was the first such experience for me. I believed his other senses would be sound," shares Gagan.
Dhanush did not even know sign language when he joined the academy. Gagan had to formulate a sign language for shooting to make him understand the game. "It was quite a task initially; but importantly, I was impressed by Dhanush’s passion, dedication and commitment. The kind of progress he made inspired us to give it our everything," explains Gagan, adding that Dhanush slowly grew in confidence and started to perform.
His learning was a little delayed, but as the training progressed, he kept winning medals and improved his reading and writing skills too. Dhanush, who has a cochlear implant, has been training very hard over the years. Gagan says one of the lad’s biggest strengths is his ability to grasp quickly. We ask him how he helped Dhanush prepare for the Deaflympics. "The idea was to keep him on his toes; he trained during the lockdown too and keept the momentum going," says Gagan.
Dhanush was initially meant to shoot at an electronic target, but at the last moment the organisers of the Deaflympics changed it to a paper target. There’s a world of difference between these two. "But the composure and resourcefulness Dhanush showed was remarkable," says Gagan who is proud of the youngster’s persistence and resistance. "To be able to show such composure and maturity at such a young age is fantastic. Shooting has become a way of life for him," says Gagan.
Admitting that shooting is an expensive sport, Gagan believes it will soon become a mainstream one. He hopes Dhanush’s win will pave the way for improving facilities in the state for the sport.Dhanush shot 247.5, a finals world record score, while Shourya was placed third with a score of 224.3.