At 23, Nishad Kumar has carved a niche in India’s parasports world with a silver medal at the 2021 Paralympics in the men’s T46/47 category (for partial amputations). Nishad lost his right arm below the elbow in a farm accident when he was eight. At the National Games in Gujarat, Nishad was taking part in his first able-bodied competition in nearly five years. While he just wanted to enjoy competing in a strong field, Nishad did a lot more than that. He finished fifth in a 14-man field, improving his personal best by four centimetres – 8 cm more than his Paralympics mark –with a jump of 2.14m.
He finished just a centimetre short of the para-world record of 2.15m set by Roderick Townsend-Roberts, set at the same Tokyo Games. The competitors’ decision to make a three cm increase from 2.14m might have cost Nishad the record.
He came close to clearing 2.17m in his first attempt but made a slight contact with the bar on his way down. The failed attempt at 2.17 meant Nishad – in joint lead after clearing all his previous heights in the first attempt – missed out on a podium finish. That would have made him only the second Indian para-athlete to finish on the podium (javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia won bronze in inter university in 2003).
Despite falling short, Nishad was not disappointed. “I just enjoyed competing and being here. I’m happy with how I did,” says Nishad, who celebrates his 23rd birthday on Monday.
Others took note of his performance. “It’s a good achievement for him,” says Jithin Thomas, coach of gold medal-winning jumper Sarvesh Kushare. “It must be challenging for him to jump without his right arm. The arm movement is important in high jump. We use our arms not just for generating power but also for balance. When we are driving ourselves off the ground in the take-off you must swing your arm,” he says.
While he came closer than many expected, Nishad says he wasn’t expecting to be in contention for medals. “I knew I was never going to be a medal contender here. I knew already at what heights the medals were going to go. We knew that gold was going to go at over 2.25m (Sarvesh Kushare won gold with 2.27m) and silver at 2.21m (won by T. Aromal of Kerala with 2.19m). Maybe if I had cleared 2.17m, I would have won a medal, but my target was different,” he says.
One of his targets was to clear 2.14m. “Our plan was to do 2.14m. I was able to do that, and I also cleared the bar by a good margin. It wasn’t a hopeful guess but based on our training,” says Nishad.
In March this year, he travelled to Chula Vista in the USA to train with top coach Jeremy Fischer, who has coached multiple Olympic medallists Will Claye. “It was a great learning experience. After I finished training there, I was in really good shape. When I came to Gandhinagar, I cleared a 2.40m height while jumping off a 22-inch box. So that gave me an estimate that I have the potential to clear 2.18m,” says Nishad.
‘Much more confident’
The second target for Nishad was to compete in a competition for able-bodied athletes. Nishad isn’t the first Indian para-athlete to take part in an able-bodied competition in recent years. Gold medallist at the Paralympics Sumit Antil has done it, so did Paralympic silver medallist in the T64 high jump category Praveen Kumar at the Federation Cup earlier this year.
Nishad, too, had his tryst with such competitions. “I took part in the Junior nationals in Pune in 2017. But I did around 1.85m. That was a very difficult time for me because I didn’t have a lot of money, and I was underconfident about competing with able-bodied athletes,” he says.
He’s much more at ease now, sporting a dark glass, a bandana, and the biggest smile before his jumps. “I have a medal at the Paralympics, and I’m supported by SAI (Sports Authority of India), TOPS (Target Olympic podium scheme) and OGQ (Olympic Gold Quest). I’m much more confident about my abilities now,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun taking part in an able-bodied competition. After the Paralympics, I was just looking for a good competition and the right time to take part. This was the best time. I was in good shape. I wasn’t under any pressure.”
Eyes on target
Having thoroughly enjoyed his experience at the National Games, Nishad is already looking forward to his 2023 season and particularly the Asian Para Games.
“My target for the next season will be based on my training. I want to train in the USA once again. The Asia Para record is 2.10. I’ve gone past that. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to be overconfident,” he says.
There’s also another target. “I really had a lot of fun competing in an able-bodied competition. Next season I will push myself even more. I want to take part in more able-bodied competitions. If I try hard, I might even reach the podium,” he says.