Avani Lekhara - On target in Tokyo, sights set on Paris

Avani Lekhara, 19, won a gold medal in women’s 10m air rifle standing SH1 and followed it up with a bronze medal in the 50m rifle 3-positions at the Tokyo Paralympics to etch her name in history. Success has only made her dream bigger.

Golden aim: India’s Avani Lekhara competes on her way to winning the gold medal in the women's 10m air rifle standing SH1.   -  Getty Images

Avani Lekhara sounds exhausted when her father Praveen hands her the phone.

“My exams started on 17th (September). It has been difficult. Imagine having only one day to prepare everything!”

Avani has always been the quintessential topper in school - dedicated and hard-working. It is almost as if she has been magically made for all the leaderboards.

Now, well into the fourth semester of an undergraduate degree in law, she admits she is finding the going a bit tough. However, she seems to have found an unheralded aid in shooting.

“Shooting has allowed me to be more focused. When I study now, I am able to concentrate more. But usually I don’t get much time; only 1-2 hours of studying when I train,” she says.

READ: Shooter Avani Lekhara becomes first Indian woman to win gold

Life has not been the same for the 19-year-old from Jaipur since Tokyo 2020 Paralympics happened. As former Olympian Joydeep Karmakar said, Avani’s gold medal (in 10m air rifle standing) is definitely a small redemption after the shooting team’s performance at the Olympics. Even before India was done celebrating Avani’s gold - she is the first woman from the country to win the yellow metal in the Paralympics - she brought more joy to more than a billion people as she struck bronze in the 50m rifle 3-positions.

“It has been an amazing experience. Everybody from all over India are sharing so much love. When I came back here, my relatives came over to welcome me. There was a lot of dancing, pictures and autographs (laughs). It feels surreal,” says the World No. 2 in women’s 10m air rifle standing (R2).

Avani, who has taken a well-deserved break from all shooting until September 26, is also having trouble balancing studies and her newfound fame, especially with all the event invites and media attention she has been getting. But it is a ‘welcome change’, one she would like to sustain and rather not complain about.

“I am attending a lot of functions. This time we got a lot of media coverage as well. It feels good to have people watch the Paralympics. It is a welcome change. We have other major tournaments coming up next year. It will be so good to have continued support even then,” she says.

Full list of Indian medallists at the 2020 Paralympics

Avani is especially thankful for her personal coach Suma Shirur. A mere mention of the former Indian rifle shooter’s name gets her excited. “Oh! She (Suma) was jumping about (when I won). She was the first one to come hug me too. I had asked her before the competition: ‘What if I don’t win a medal?’. She said, ‘I will be there for you no matter what. Just go there and give your best.’. We have a very good connection. She is like the best coach anyone can ever have!”, Avani says.

The shooter is also in contention for the prestigious Arjuna Award after the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) recommended her name for the upcoming National Sports Awards.

Rich haul: Shooter Avani Lekhara shows the two medals - gold and bronze - she won at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, on her arrival in Jaipur.   -  PTI

 

“I am very happy. Every athlete dreams of getting nominated for the Arjuna. It is for all the things I have done in the past one month.”

READ: Fitness, confidence, self-belief - Jhajharia’s success mantra

Avani has already made history. So, what’s next? “I got to my dream goal. Now it is time to dream bigger. It (Tokyo Paralympics) has ended. Now all of it comes back to zero. The next Paralympics cycle restarts soon. I will work harder and improve. We will have the Asian Para Games and the Quota competitions for Paris 2024 soon. We will also have the World Championships. Hopefully, I will be able to make India proud again.”

Avani understands she is already an inspiration for many across the country. She signs off with a message for every woman who wants to make it big someday.

“There were a lot of firsts for me in this Paralympics. First gold for a woman. First woman flag-bearer. First woman with two medals. And it has been amazing... To all the women out there, you are stronger than you think. There’s no limit to what you can achieve. Don’t do something to please somebody else. Just put all of your energy behind what you really love to do.”