The whole of India is rejoicing Neeraj Chopra’s win at the Tokyo Olympics. However, unbeknownst to probably most of India’s population, an Indian, Devendra Jhajharia, is the proud winner of 2 gold medals in Javelin Throw at 2 separate editions of the biggest sporting spectacle in the world.
The thing that is even more impressive about Jhajharia’s feat is that the athlete set a new world record each time. He had won the first gold medal for India, way back in 2004, in the men’s Javelin throw event at the Paralympics. Jhajharia won the gold again in 2016 Rio Paralympics, and proved to the world how good he really is, when he set yet another new world record.
Hailing from the Churu district of Rajasthan, Devendra Jhajharia is India’s second Paralympian to clinch a gold medal, after Murlikant Petkar’s gold at the 1972 Heidelberg Games, in the 50-meter Freestyle Swimming event. Jhajharia’s maiden gold came after he threw the javelin for a new world record of 62.15 m. Later on, in 2016, Jhajharia bettered his own record by making a staggering 63.97m throw. That throw became a new world record at the time. As he makes his way towards a third gold attempt at the Tokyo Games, all eyes will be on Jhajharia, especially after he made a mammoth 65.71m throw while trying to book his place in India’s Tokyo Paralympic contingent, during a National Selection Trial in New Delhi, on 30th June.
Jhajharia has been bestowed the 2004 Arjuna Award, for his performance in the 2004 Athens Paralympics, and is the first Paralympic athlete to receive the prestigious Padma Shri Award in 2012. He also received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 2017.
It’s been a long and arduous journey for this determined athlete, born on the 10th of June 1981, to a family of farmers. It was a simple life for him in his childhood and even though he was not looking at it as a future profession, Jhajharia always loved playing with his friends. One day when he was only 9-years-old, he and his friends were playing a game of ‘hide and seek’. Jhajharia climbed a tree and accidentally grabbed a live wire, with 11,000 volts of electricity coursing through it. After he fell to the ground unconscious, he was taken to get medical attention. Even though the doctors were able to save his life, they could not save his left hand, which had to be amputated, almost up to the elbow.
“It was like hell to me at that young age. Nobody was sure whether I would be able to recover from such an accident. But I recovered and from that time I always felt that I have nothing to lose. So I was determined to give my best in whatever I do.”
The true sportsman in him came to the fore. Even though he often faced ridicule and sympathetic criticism, from villagers and sometimes even from friends, he only used them as motivation. Soon enough, Jhajharia could be seen at his school’s sports field, observing the sport that only required a single arm to play.
“I knew that sport is a leveller. So I thought of becoming a sportsman and started practicing every day. Initially, I participated in the open category and then gradually moved to parasport.”
Devendra Jhajharia’s steady determination has been a big part of his success, along with his family. Despite their financial troubles his family have always supported him, especially his father. Unfortunately, last year in October, Jhajharia lost his father and is yet to recover from that loss.
Apart from his success at the Paralympics, he also has gold medals at both the 2002 FESPIC Games (Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled) in South Korea and the 2013 IPC (International Paralympic Committee) Athletics World Championships. He also has two silver medals – one at the 2015 World Championships and one at the 2014 Asian Games.
The most successful Paralympian from India, Jhajharia believes that his biggest advantage is his mental strength which makes him powerful through tough situations, and ultimately earns him his success.
“The most important quality of mine that I am myself proud of is my mental strength. That is the reason I am still going strong at this age of 40.”
Even though the Javelin Throw may be considered an individual event, according to Jhajharia, there is a whole team that is responsible for the success that he has been able to achieve in the sport. He talks about his family, especially his wife Manju Jhajharia, who has been one of the major reasons that he has been able to achieve his 2 Paralympic gold medals.
“My wife has taken all the responsibility of my family. She was herself a national-level Kabaddi player, but always supported me to continue Javelin Throw. After my 2004 Olympic gold, the F46 category in Javelin Throw was not on the tournament schedule for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. I tried to keep my morale up and kept on training for the 2012 London edition of the Games. However, the same incident occurred again. I felt that it was time to sideline my dream of another Olympic medal. However, my wife believed in me and said that I can compete in 2016 also as sports is in my blood.”
Jhajharia also speaks highly of the coaching team that stands resolutely behind him. According to him he is undergoing a high level training because of the team, especially thanks to his coach, Sunil Tawar and his physio, Lakshya Batra. Under their guidance he has switched to a training routine focusing mainly on recovery instead of high-intensity workouts.
“If I train in the morning, I make sure I have recovered fully before hitting the ground in the evening. At 40, my training routine can’t be the same that I followed two decades back. At this stage, my priority is to stay fit and avoid injuries.”
With his 2 Paralympic gold medals and a host of other accolades, Jhajharia almost hung up his boots in 2018, after he experienced a grade two muscle tear in his right shoulder. At 37-years-old it is very hard for an athlete to move on after such an injury. But he soon realised that his hunger for another Paralympic medal was not satisfied yet and he simply kept on training.
The Paralympian is ready to leave for Tokyo in an attempt to pick up his third gold medal. Even though age may not be by his side at this stage, Jhajharia proved that he is still a gold medal-contender when he made the humongous 65.71m throw during the New Delhi National trials. However, the throw remains an ‘unofficial world record’, since it was completed only at a trial event, which is not a part of the International Paralympic Committee’s calendar.