Radha Venkatesh and Rakshitha Raju have certain things in common. Both of them are still in their teens; they go to the same school; they are track and field athletes and both of them are Asian Games medallists. But most importantly they are both visually impaired.
Radha, who is from Chitradurga, is partially visually impaired and Rakshitha, who is from Chikkamagaluru, has complete impairment. But that did not stop them from running. The girls, who went to Ashakiran Blind School in Chikkamagaluru, opted for running when it came to choose a sport in school.
When Radha was in Class 9 and Rakshitha was in Class 7, they participated at a National Level championship in Delhi. Radha won gold in 100m, 400m and 800m while Rakshitha too won her first medals there. It was at this championship that the girls were traced by para athlete coach Rahul Balakrishna. He motivated them to enroll at the Indian Athletic Academy in Bengaluru owned by his friend Roshan Agnisreedhar Bachan.
At that stage, both Radha and Rakshitha were nurturing a dream of representing their country in international meets. The opportunity to train in a structured academy was also their dream considering that they were physically disabled. Balakrishna took the two girls to Roshan Bachan who was at first totally confused about how to train them among other normal athletes.
“In the midst of all able-bodied athletes, came Radha and Rakshitha. At first I was in a dilemma. But looking at their talent and determination for working hard, I took it as a challenge. Rahul, who already had experience in para athletics, guided me and I took up the job,” revealed Roshan Bachan.
It was in 2016 that Radha and Rakshitha started training under Roshan Bachan; all having one focus and that of winning a medal at the Para Asian Games in Jakarta two years later. Himself being a 400m runner, Roshan knew the training aspects of both mid-distance and long-distance running. Accordingly, he started to coach the girls as there was not much time left for them. “It requires more energy and hard work to train differently-abled athletes. Moreover, they have disabled vision. So everything has to be clearly communicated. But, as both the girls are very hardworking, everything fell in places,” Bachan said.
At the Para Asian Games 2018, Radha Venkatesh won bronze medal in the 400m by completing it in 1:07 minutes. Running with Rahul Balakrishna as her guide, Radha became the first Indian to win the Asian Games medal in 400m. She went one step ahead in 1,500m and won silver in the event with a time of 5:72 minutes.
Rakshitha Raju, on the other hand, hit the jackpot when she won the gold medal in 1,500m by clocking 5:40 minutes. It was a proud moment for every Indian present in the stadium and also for Rakshitha’s grandmother back at home under whose guidance she grew up after losing her parents at a tender age. After winning the medal she thanked her coach and friends but at the same time remembered her target of winning an Olympic medal in 2020.
As they returned to India, both the girls received a warm welcome. They were also invited to the Prime Minister’s place for a felicitation ceremony. But in spite of their stellar performance, neither the state government nor any sports organization came forward to support them. It is to be noted that the girls were sent to Jakarta with aid from sponsors and a private foundation called Agni Foundation.
Athletes like Radha Venkatesh and Rakshitha Raju bring laurel to the country but they remain in the shadows of the much celebrated sportsmen of our nation. Yes, they may not have the glamour and glitz surrounding them. But that should not undermine their charismatic effort by which they make India proud in international arena.