Ekta Bhyan: Will resume training only if safe

Asian Para Games gold medallist Ekta Bhyan cannot help but worry about how safe it is to get back to training with sporting federations slowly facilitating a return to outdoor practice.

Ekta Bhyan: The postponement of the Olympics was inevitable. And we were going full throttle towards the game. Naturally, the postponement and the pause in sport has reduced our speed a little.   -  Photo source - Twitter

With sporting federations across disciplines slowly facilitating a return to training, athletes have been waiting with bated breath to see what they can and can’t do as they head back or at least try to head back to their old routines.

For Asian Para Games gold medallist Ekta Bhyan, however, this wait comes with a little anxiety. The Hissar-based parathlete is able to dispense her duties as an employment officer with the Haryana government from home, but she cannot help but worry about how safe it is to get back to training.

“I am quadriplegic and I am wheelchair-bound. This comes with two main challenges. Due to our disability, we are dependent on others to carry out basic daily activities and due to that dependence, social distancing is difficult for us. So that makes us vulnerable,” Bhyan told Sportstar.

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Her dependence on her wheelchair also puts her in a position of disadvantage in this situation.

“The use of assistive devices like a wheelchair poses an increased risk because it’s a surface we’re constantly touching; we can’t shift away. Maintaining perfect hygiene and keeping it germ-free is a challenge, especially if we choose to go out,” she added.

An accident when she was just 18 years old left her paralysed due to a spinal cord injury at the cervical level. The damage has also left her with lower respiratory capabilities.

“The spinal injury left me with only 40-50 percent lung function. So me and others like me are predisposed as it is. That’s a concern before continuing with anything,” she said.

A focus for Bhyan during this lockdown has been to keep up her schedule. She has not been able to train at a ground but is determined to ensure the rest of her regimen follows the clock.

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“My coach Amit Saroha has drafted out a plan for me, especially involving weights. I use dumbbells, weight cuffs and also have stretching exercises to do, after which I do some yoga and then meditation. I am watching my diet and making sure that I get two hours to workout in the morning and two more in the evening, thanks to a tiny home gym I have that allows wheelchair propulsion. The only thing I am missing now is going to the ground,” she explained.

As it turns out, the union ministry of home affairs has allowed the reopening of stadia without spectators paving the way for athletes, especially those heading to Tokyo or looking to secure a berth, to resume training. As the Paralympic Committee stands suspended, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) is due to make its Standard Operating Protocol for parasports public.

“Usually before big tournaments, like the World Championships in Dubai last year, I trained at the Sports Authority of India’s campus in Sonipat. Otherwise, I just practise at this ground near my house. So if we have a clearance given to training, I think I’ll head there. Hopefully arrangements will be made to facilitate that and if it poses no risk to my health then I’ll go for it immediately,” said the 36-year-old club thrower.

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The global sporting community finds itself in limbo with events postponed and cancelled and doubts about returning to some level of normalcy in an infection-free manner. One of the events affected is of course the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which have now been moved ahead by a year.

“The postponement of the Olympics was inevitable. And we were going full throttle towards the game. Naturally, the postponement and the pause in sport has reduced our speed a little,” Bhyan explained.

She is worried about the health of para-sports, what with every event for the 2020 calendar finding itself scrapped or suspended. However, she insists on seeing the bigger picture.

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“This was a crucial year for us. But right now, if I weigh everything happening here with the pandemic, my priority can’t be anything but my health. So getting through this virus safely, finding a way to stop the spread, these are the things I am inclining towards,” Bhyan said.

While dealing with the uncertainties of this COVID-19 world takes up her time, Bhyan also emphasises the need to keep seeing the positives.

“Even if we’re taking our best measures to prevent a spread, without a working vaccine or some counter medicine, things are going to remain this way. So right now, I am just focussing on the positives. I have an additional year, I am trying to keep my preparation going until we hear from the authorities. We need carefully drafted protocol to be able to resume training and I hope the authorities will consider our vulnerabilities when laying down the directives," Bhyan added.