Field Pride

An Indian runner scoops up laurels at the World Dwarf Games

Flanked by fellow athletes, CV Rajanna (centre) displays his medals at the World Dwarf Games in Michigan. SIDDALINGA SIDDESHWAR
01 November, 2013

CV RAJANNA NARROWED HIS EYES and stared at the track ahead: he couldn’t afford to lose focus. Barely hours before, he had missed a gold medal in the 100-metre sprint by a mere 0.03 seconds. Now, he told himself, he would look neither right nor left. This time, he had 200 metres to cover. He stood leaning forward, waiting for the gunshot that would announce the start of the race.

At the shot, the athletes tore down the track. “My Indian teammates were cheering me on loudly,” Rajanna recounted when I met him in Bangalore in September, the month after the games. Rajanna took the lead at the start of the race and held it all the way to a victory, earning one of the four gold medals—apart from two silver—that he brought home from this year’s World Dwarf Games in Michigan, USA. The Indian contingent stood sixth in the medal tally with 21 medals in total, of which the three Bangalore athletes won 11.

“These days, people come up to me on the street and say, ‘Hey, aren’t you that sportsperson that appeared in the papers? Well done!’” said Rajanna, pumping an imaginary hand in front of him. Sitting in the office of the Paralympic Committee of India—the organisation responsible for selecting the contingent that goes to the World Dwarf Games—Rajanna and his fellow athletes from Bangalore, Renu Kumar and M Prakash, described their preparation for the games. “A month before the games, we start training in earnest, and the time spent on training increased a little,” said Renu Kumar. Prakash, a power-lifter and field athlete, quit his job as a laser engraving operator in Okalipuram to focus on his training. His normal routine, he said, involved hitting the gym for two hours, four days a week. “A month ahead of the games, I spent three hours extra in the evenings,” he said, patting his biceps. For Rajanna, who owns a printing company, and Renu Kumar, who works in the real estate business, training meant jogging and exercising for an hour every morning.

The Bangalore athletes averred that they had had an easier time preparing for the games than athletes from rural Karnataka, who had limited access to facilities and coaches. Despite strong performances at the games, Siddalinga Siddeshwar from Bellary, Devappa More from Bagalkot, N Nagesh from Kolar and Shanta Kumar from Hassan, who trained on their own, didn’t manage podium finishes.

Having been born with dwarfism, the athletes had to be careful while training, explained their coach Ramesh Tikaram, who advised them to jog on grassy surfaces to prevent damage to their knees and ankles. “I also tell them not to jog for more than 20 minutes, so they don’t strain their hearts,” he said. Despite Tikaram’s guidance, the athletes feel they would benefit from specialised medical advice. “It would really help if we received advice specific to our condition from coaches and doctors,” said Siddeshwar, a graduate student, to murmurs of assent from his teammates.

Attending the games was a liberating experience, the athletes said. “Seeing entire families of little people participating in games was thrilling,” said Shanta Kumar, a gram panchayat employee, who made plenty of new friends from different countries during the trip. “We took pictures with a very famous actor,” said Prakash, whipping out his phone to show me pictures of the athletes posing with the actor, stuntman and athlete Martin Klebba, who is also a little person. Rajanna felt that the “rules” that governed the lives of little people in the West were no different from those of people of average height. “Here, we are creatures to be gawked at,” said Nagesh, a professional dancer with an orchestra in his village in Kolar. “There, we were equals.”