Sheetal Becomes First Indian Woman to Win 2 Asian Para Games Gold
Published On: 30 Oct 2023 Updated On: 07 Nov 2023
The 16-year-old archer hailing from Loidhar village in Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir, is the first female archer without arms to compete internationally, as per the reports of ‘World Archery’ which is the sports governing body. Last week, Sheetal created history by securing two gold medals and a silver medal at the 4th Asian Para Games in Hangzhou. Clinching a silver in the women’s doubles compound event, Sheetal added two gold medals from the mixed doubles and women’s individual too.
On Friday morning, 27 October 2023, she won gold in the women’s compound with a win over Alim Nur Syahidah of Singapore in the final in the Para Asian Games. With a powerful and scintillating display of her skills, she bagged the gold medal on a remarkable note in the women’s compound event. It was a neck-to-neck contest with Alim Nur as the opponent took a point lead in the first three sets. At the end of the third set, Alim was ahead of Sheetal with a three-point lead with the final two sets remaining.
Sheetal displayed a power-packed play with back-to-back perfect shots by missing the mark in a couple of shots in a close match with Alim Nur. Finally, Sheetal emerged victorious with a final score of 144-142, clinching the gold medal in the 2023 Asian Para Games.
Sheetal was diagnosed with Phocomelia the moment she was born. Phocomelia is a rare congenital disorder that causes underdeveloped limbs. In an interview, she mentioned that, at the beginning of the archery journey, she was not able to lift the bow. Bust as months passed it eventually became easier for her. She said that her parents always believed in her potential and on top of that, her friends were very supportive of her decision. The one thing she never liked was the look people gave her after realizing she didn’t have arms. She proudly said that the medals she won prove she has a knack, skill, and talent and that she is special in her own way. The medal is not just hers but the whole country’s.
In the Hangzhou Asian Games, Sheetal Devi secured silver in the women’s team by teaming up with Sarita and gold in the mixed event by teaming up with Rakesh Kumar. This is commendable and splendid for someone who started their archery journey just two years ago. Her journey took its step when she enrolled in a youth event organized by the Indian Army in Kishtwar in 2021.
She was the center of attention of the scouts because of her sheer athleticism. In order for her to get a prosthetic arm, the scouts reached out to Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust in Bengaluru, which further contacted Being You, an online storytelling platform. But unfortunately, the prosthetic arm did not fit Sheetal’s arm and she thought it might be the end of her sports career.
Even after all this, the hope was still present. Sheetal used to climb trees using her upper body and legs as a pastime back at home. An assessment by a physiotherapist stated that she had a very strong upper body. She had scored 8.5/10 and the physiotherapist recommended archery, swimming, and running as options for Sheetal.
Through a collective decision, it was finalized that Sheetal would train under the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Sports Complex in Katra. She was training under coaches Abhilasha Chaudhary and Kuldeep Vedwan who never trained an armless archer. But both had witnessed 2012 London Paralympics silver medallist Matt Stutzman using his legs to shoot. Chaudhary mentioned, “We modified a locally-made releaser into a shoulder releaser. We also put together a string mechanism for the chin and mouth to create the trigger to help her release the arrow. We improvised based on what we saw Mark Stutzman using.”
At first, Sheetal shot 50-100 arrows daily, and as her strength improved it went up to 300 arrows per day. After six months, she secured a silver medal in the Para Open National at Sonepat. She got the fourth position in the Open Nationals, where she competed against the able-bodied athletes.
As Sheetal shared her thoughts regarding her journey, she said, “When Kuldeep Sir made me train with the bow for the first time, I thought I could never do it. But as he made me understand the technique, I felt I should give it a try.” She was determined to make a name for herself after watching her parents work so hard to provide for her and her siblings.
Earlier this year, Sheetal won the silver medal at the World Para Archery Championships in Pilsen in the Czech Republic. She lost to Oznur Cure of Turkey in the final but became the first female armless archer to win a medal at the world championship.
With this India has created a history with the para-athletes by winning 111 medals in total which included 29 gold medals.
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