Eight years ago, Madhavi Latha’s life came to a standstill when she came to know that she was suffering from Polio. Doctors said she had only a year left to live. The disease had compressed her Spinal cord. Moreover, with one of her lungs covered by the spine, the lack of oxygen had made her muscles weak and her body was succumbing to the pressure. An immediate spinal surgery was required and her chances were still said to be bleak. But fate had something else in the bag for her. She met a physiotherapist who suggested the process of hydrotherapy- exercises under water to increase her chances of survival. His confidence made Madhavi attempt this against her family’s desire.
To everyone’s surprise, the buoyancy of water made her body light and the weak muscles in her legs were now able to bear her weight. She could walk under water. “This meant a completely different world of freedom for me”, she says. Her health improved, but she didn’t wanted to give up on this new found world yet as she had already made other plans with it. In 2010, while working with a bank, Madhavi participated in the corporate Olympiad which was exclusively for able-bodied athletes. “The organiser’s worry for my safety made me swim with 4 others around for support”, she recollects. To everyone’s astonishment, she finished the 100m freestyle to great applause, being conferred with the title of the most encouraging sports person. This competitive race was a turning point in her life. She subsequently participated in the Para- Swimming National Championship and won three gold medals. This was just the beginning of her tryst with Para-Sports. Madhavi began to wonder that if she could find happiness at the age of 40 through sports, then why not use it to change the lives of others like her.
She initiated a movement called “Yes we too can”, where she advocated the benefits of sports for people with disabilities. The interaction with the community helped her understand the hindrances they face. Madhavi concluded that there is a deep lack of awareness for this issue in the society itself. Through lectures and debates she went on sharing her thoughts. Her efforts led to the formation of a State level association for Paralympic swimmers. The organization which started in 2011 with 4 Para – swimmers now has around 300 swimmers with many who have represented the state in the recent national championship. Seeing her efforts, several NGOs and Corporate’s extended support to Madhavi. Her collaboration with the UK based not- for-profit, Choice International, led her to a new facet of Para-sports; Wheelchair Basketball. With a few others Madhavi took the initiative to form the national body- Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) in 2014.
Through the establishment of WBFI, she came across Kalyani Rajaraman. The two visionary women spearheaded the growth of the sport in the country by spreading awareness at public platforms and recognizing the potential of the differently-abled population. The lack of national and state level sports associations and clubs for wheelchair basketball, posed the initial challenge of finding individuals who could be encouraged to play. To counter this, WBFI conducted workshops in numerous organisations to help individuals play the sport professionally. With their efforts, the year of 2014 saw the first National Wheelchair Basketball Championship at Chennai with 5 teams from different states. Moreover, the duo was responsible in associating the representatives from the International Wheelchair Basketball federation with the second National Wheelchair Basketball Championship held at New Delhi in December 2015.
Madhavi was at the forefront of this event and being a part of a women’s team herself, she helped set the tone for all the other women participating for the first time. “We need to encourage every association to have targets in bringing in more women and child players to the game. In fact, WBFI’s aims to see a team from India at the Wheelchair Basketball Championship, in the 2020 Paralympics at Tokyo”, she says about her visions. For someone who accidentally stumbled upon the avenue of Para- Sports just seven years back to save her life, Madhavi has made a great difference in this field in a very short span of time. Her efforts have hugely ensured awareness towards people with disability and have changed the mindset of thousands.
PLEASE NOTE –
The Wheelchair basketball Federation of India is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to collect funds for purchase of more sports wheelchairs for the Para-athletes in our country. Each of these sports wheelchairs are specially designed, cost around 35000 INR and need to be imported from UK.
You can contribute in the Crowdfunding Campaign here – https://milaap.org/campaigns/sportswheelchairsforparaathletes
Story by : Shrikkanth Govindarajan
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