Mariyappan Thangavelu: A champion against all odds

Blog by: Raj Kishan..

It doesn’t matter what odds are on paper or what has happened all your life, what matters is what happens that very moment. A winner is always born against all odds. Mariyappan Thangavelu is that winner!

Mariyappan Thangavelu (born 28th June, 1995) is Paralympics high jumper, who comes from Tamil Nadu. He represented India in the 2016 Summer Paralympics games held in Rio de Janeiro in the men’s high jump T-42 category, winning the gold medal in the finals. He is India’s first Paralympian gold medallist since 2004. Mariyappan is a prime example of a true winner, who rose up against all the odds and beat all the tough situations of childhood.

Speaking of tough, Mariyappan comes from a very poor family, his father abandon him and his 5 siblings early on. His mother took care of the family; firstly working as a labourer and then becoming a vegetable seller, earning not more than ₹100. As if it wasn’t already tough, when Mariyappan was just five, he was run over by a drunken bus driver; the bus crushed his right leg below the knee, causing it to become stunted, leaving a permanent disability.

Despite the setback, Mariyappan, continued and completed his schooling. It was his Physical Education teacher who 1st saw his skills in high jump and motivated him to move forward in this sport. Later, coach Satyanarayana saw Thangavelu at the 2013 National Para-Athletics Championship and brought him to Bengaluru for training.

In March 2016, Mariyappan cleared a distance of 1.78m in the men’s high jump T42 event at the IPC Grand prix in Tunisia, qualifying him for the Rio Paralympics. Then came the gold. “When I cleared the bar, I was thrilled that I had won a gold medal for India… I was confident that I could clear that height even before I began the attempt. I had gone in with the determination that I would come back with a gold medal,” said a jubilant and confident Mariyappan. The 21-year-old high jumper made history with his 1.89m jump. According, to his coach, Satyanarayana, he had never leaped that high before. “I thought that he would only get the silver and I should be happy.” However, not only did Mariyappan clear that height, he also narrowly missed clearing the height of 1.92m. Now, Mariyappan and his coach are preparing to break the world record of 1.96m, set by Arnold Boldt at the 1980 Arnhem Paralympics.

For the gold medal at the 2016 Summer Paralympics

  • Padma Shri (2017) – fourth highest Indian national honour
  • Arjuna Award (2017) – second highest Indian sporting honour, including a cash award of ₹5 lakh
  • ₹2 crore from the Government of Tamil Nadu
  • ₹75 lakh from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports[
  • ₹50 lakh from the Government of Madhya Pradesh
  • ₹30 lakh from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
  • ₹15 lakh from fund established by Sachin Tendulkar, various corporations
  • ₹10 lakh from Yash Raj Films
  • ₹10 lakh from the Delhi Golf Club
  • ₹5 lakh from NRI businessman Mukkattu Sebastian

Despite winning the award, however, it was noticed that the young sportsman had other things on his mind that he wished to sort out. According to a report in the DailyMail, Mariyappan has been unemployed for over a period of one year since his return from Rio. Having lived off the money that he earned from the Rio games, he now wishes for nothing more than a steady job to look after his family.

Tamil film director Aishwaryaa Dhanush is making a film about this life and achievements titled ‘Mariyappan.’ He says that hopefully his story will inspire many others. Indeed it will. So, in the end, just beat the odds because you all are above them!