Muralikant Petkar, the Indian war hero and the winner of first gold medal in Paralympics for India, turned 79 recently.
Journey of Muralikant Petkar from Peth to Pune
The extraordinary life journey of Muralikant Petkar started from his hometown Peth in the Islampur region of Sangli where he developed a keen interest in wrestling, athletics, and hockey. But at the age of 12, he dared to defeat the village head’s son in wrestling and had to subsequently run away from his home to avoid facing wrath of all villagers.
When young Murali became an armyman
The young man had a meagre amount in his pocket when he reached Pune. There he enrolled himself in the Boys Battalion of the Indian Army and excelled in every sport. But boxing was his passion and he got the opportunity to represent the Indian Army in Boxing at the International Services Sports Meet 1964 in Tokyo. Returning from the international meet, he started to prepare for the Nationals.
Life threatening injury of Muralikant Petkar
But life is always unpredictable as Petkar found himself in the midst of the 1965 Indo-Pak War at Sialkot Sector while he was visiting Kashmir as a reward from his commandant for his brilliant performance in Tokyo. The army camp came under aerial attack and Petkar suffered multiple gunshot wounds. The debilitating injuries left him disabled for life.
However, his courage and willpower were the paths of his recovery at the Navy Hospital in Mumbai. There he was advised by the doctor to take up swimming as part of the rehabilitation programme. Swimming gave him a new meaning to his life. Murali Petkar trained harder with the aim to represent India at the Paralympics so that he could break the barriers of his disability.
Life took a turn for Petkar
He started his preparation for the 1968 Paralympics by participating in the National Games 1967 where he became the Maharashtra State Champion in shot-put, javelin throw, discus throw, weightlifting, table tennis and archery. He went on to participate in the 1968 Paralympics and reached the finals in javelin throw and slalom racing and also cleared the first round in table tennis.
The inspiring journey of Murali Petkar spread far and wide and he was immensely respected by people from across every sphere of life. It was at this time he met former India cricket captain Vijay Merchant who was so moved by Petkar’s determination that he sponsored his trip to Heidelberg Paralympics in 1972.
1972 Paralympics- Murali Petkar won the first-ever gold for India
The highlight of Murali Petkar’s career came at Heidelberg when he won gold in the 50-metre freestyle swimming event and etched his name in the history of Indian sports. He became the first India to win a gold medal at the Paralympics.
As a true armyman, Petkar brought much glory to his nation. At the Stoke Mandeville International Paraplegic Meets held in England where he consistently outdid his own records. From 1969-1973, he won the General Championship Cup for five consecutive years. In 1970, at the 3rd Commonwealth Paraplegic Games held at Edinburgh, Scotland, Petkar bagged gold in 50m freestyle swimming, silver in javelin throw and bronze in shot put. In 1982, he created another world record in 50m swimming at the International FESPIC Games in Hong Kong.
Murali Petkar’s achievements finally got an official recognition when in 2018 he became the recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri award.