India's first blind athlete to participate in Paralympic Games and winner of three medals in 2014 Incheon Para Asian Games, Ankur Dhama's life story is all about achieving success even when there are thousand and one hurdles blocking your path.
The 24-year-old Dhama, who hails from a small village in Uttar Pradesh fight against all odds to become the first totally blind Indian athlete in 2018 to win the prestigious Arjuna Award for his outstanding contribution in the field of para-athletics.
The journey which started in 2004-05 when he was in school after watching his senior friends play, the St Stephens alumni is the winner of more than 50 national and over 20 International medals and competes in 800, 1500 and 5000 meters in the T11 category (completely blind).
Talking about his initial journey in the sport, the 24-year-old said, "I used to watch my senior friends participating in sports and look up to them with keen interest and think that even I can participate in sports. So I started playing in school and participated in Indian Blind Sports Association athletics meet sponsored by USHA International which used to take place once in every two years."
"And then in the year 2007, I participated in Nationals for the first time where I won the Bronze medal in 400 and 800m category which boosted my confidence. And in 2008 competing again, I broke the junior record in both these categories."
"After that, I went to feature in Student World Youth Championship organized by International Blind Association in 2009 and won 2 Gold medals there and since then this journey keeps on going," he said while remembering the memories of his early days in the sport.
On been questioned about did he keep the count of his medals, the champion player filled with pride said, "Till now I have won more than 50 national medals and around 20 International medals in various games."
Since he participates in the completely blind category, he always needs a guide alongside him so that he can train and his polish skills and this is one of the major challenges he considers in the journey of a visually impaired para-athlete in India.
Talking about the struggles he said, "Visually impairment is the biggest challenge and it is common and understood. But to train yourselves mentally is a very big challenge for a blind athlete. Training at the track isn't difficult but coming to track is a way tough journey."
He also credits his coach Satyapal Singh for his success saying that the Dronacharya Award winner is always a helping hand for him not just in the ground and outside even.
"In the track, my coach Satyapal Singh, who is himself a Dronacharya Award winner has helped me a lot and still he does a lot for a blind athlete, he is very supportive and has a lot many able body athletes, he asks them to help us and they always do that even."
"He manages us very well. He has got a very good idea of everything. If in case there is no guide available then he knows how to utilize that day and makes us do strength training. During run after every 30-40 meters gives us the idea by clap, he has got a very good idea and mentally also he never let us feel pressure. He is always a lot supportive to everyone," he added.
And now with almost a decade of experience on his bank, he is targeting glory in the upcoming major tournaments of 2019 to compact his game plan for the sporting megaevent 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
He also gets an additional boost for preparations after he was offered the job of Assistant coach in Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi that will not only help with financially but also he can use the facilities of the stadium to train with better equipment.
"2020 Paralympics is my main target but before that, I am preparing for other major tournaments like World Championship and two-three other Grand Prix."
"In May there is the China Open and for that, I am targeting the next three months. My coach has prepared the training plan till 2020 and I am working on speed, endurance, and strength."
"And I am hopeful of better results because my coach is fully focused on me and also I am associated with JLN stadium, I am offered the job of Assistant coach, which is very financially helpful for me and also I can use the facilities of the stadium," he sighed off.