Colors of courage: Meet Avani Lekhara who overcame a deadly car accident to win gold as a paralympic shooter
From a life-threatening accident to becoming a para shooter extraordinaire, Avani Lekhara has defied the odds to triumph.
Avani grew up in the heart of Rajasthan, as she was born in Jaipur to Praveen Lekhara and Shweta Lekhara. The young lass has been confined to a wheelchair since a car accident in 2012. But her disability, however, did not deter her from pursuing her dream. “My childhood, before my accident, was just like any other child. I wasn’t playing any sport at the time, but I enjoyed singing and dancing among everything else that I did”, elucidates Avani.
After the car accident, Avani suffered severe spinal cord injuries, becoming paraplegic and losing sensation below the waist. It was then that her father, a Rajasthan state government employee, decided to encourage her to participate in sports. “After my accident my father saw some para-athletes train. That's when he decided to get me involved in some form of sport. “I tried my hand at various sports. Archery being one of them. I tried shooting after that and slowly my interest in the sport started growing,” she reveals. She reveals that she was inspired by Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra after reading his book.
“Shooting always gave me confidence to overcome any struggle. After my first international medal I knew there was no turning back. That was the point I decided to pursue it with even more dedication,” chimes Avani who never looked back and became the first Indian woman to win a Paralympic gold medal, firing her way to the top of the podium in the R-2 women's 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 event at the 2020 Paralympics Games in Tokyo. She followed it with a bronze in the women’s 50 mt rifle 3 positions SH1 event.
For Avani, it was an affirmation of her parents' unwavering faith. “I've spent a lot of time with my grandparents and I’ve been very attached to them. My nana was an IPS officer, I learnt a lot from him. My family has been my biggest support throughout. Right from picking me up mentally in my toughest times, to supporting me on the biggest sporting stages in the world.”
Her parents’ encouragement and guidance gave her wings to achieve her goals and ambitions. “Consistency is the most important thing. Don't try too hard to make anyone else proud. Rely on discipline and consistency,” believes Avani.
Her path to success, however, was fraught with difficulties, as she had to overcome both physical and mental battles to reach the elite level that she now occupies. “I had to face a lot of challenges. I had to learn everything again like a small baby does. Right from sitting to doing every small activity. Self-doubt was one more obstacle that I had to work on very hard to overcome. Getting used to this new way of life was a challenge too,” reveals the 20-year-old rifle shooter.
Despite her career's ups and downs, the gutsy gal won every colour of medal for Rajasthan since her first National Shooting Championship in 2015. She shares a quote that she read as a child which still resonates with today ‘Change is the only constant in life’ and tips her hat to Suma Shirur, an Indian shooter who is currently coaching Avani.
Lekhara who was recently conferred the Khel Ratna, maintains, "There's more to me than just my sport and my achievements,” as she is pursuing a five-year law degree from the University of Rajasthan. “I aspire to become a judge one day,” she admits going on to share a message for every aspiring Paralympian out there, “Always chase your dreams to make yourself proud. Don't beat yourself up too much over situations you can’t control. Resting is also very important. Be passionate about sport and not just winning and losing. Results are only a part of your journey,” she smiles.
Lekhara who was dubbed the "golden girl" by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has now set her sights on the Asian Games, World Championships, and quota events in Paris in 2024.