Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bangalore, this champion swimmer needs your help

Bangalore, this champion swimmer needs your help

Prasanta Karmakar, winner of four golds at the IWAS Games, struggles to make ends meet in his pursuit of glory at the Commonwealth Para Games

Dev S Sukumar. Bangalore



Even as he gets closer to his dream of winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games, the bills are stacking up against Prasanta Karmakar. It's come to a point where the champion amputee swimmer is forced to admit, in an unguarded moment, that he has 'ruined his life' in the pursuit of sporting glory.
For Karmakar, a paralympic swimmer who has won 20 international medals—including four gold medals at the IWAS (International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports federation) Games in Bangalore in November—the Commonwealth Para Games is all-or-nothing. He doesn't have a job, sponsors or family wealth to support the exorbitant costs of being a top-level sportsperson. It costs him Rs20,000 a month just to make ends meet, out of which Rs15,000 comes as a loan from a friend. As each week passes, the debt keeps mounting up. He reckons he has to pay back some Rs4.5 lakh, but he doesn't know how he's going to repay it. His only hope is that, if he can win a medal at the Commonwealth, he will be rewarded in some way by the government.
Most of the expenses are towards training and living in Bangalore, to which he shifted a year ago in pursuit of high-level training. The 29-year-old is a native of West Bengal and comes from a family with modest means (his father is a car driver). Having won the national title since 2001, Karmakar expected that his bronze medal (S 10 category) at the 2006 Asian Games would lead to some recognition and at least a government job, but all he got were empty promises. "I haven't got a rupee from either the central or state government, despite that bronze at the Asian Games," says Karmakar. "My family wonders why I'm still swimming. As a nation, we have completely ignored the rights of the disabled."
With a Commonwealth medal in mind, he decided to approach coach Nihar Ameen to train at KC Reddy Swim Centre in Sadashivnagar. Ameen offered free training. Meanwhile, GoSports Foundation offered him a scholarship of Rs5,000 a month.
Like other disabled athletes, Karmakar has to conquer challenges in nearly every aspect of training. The missing right hand forces several adjustments in weight training. For any exercise that requires him to grip a weight–such as the pull-up or wrist curl–he uses a strap with a buckle; for the bench press, he uses an improvised steel tumbler that he inserts over the wrist. "It's quite shocking to see him push himself," says Ameen.
For athletes like Karmakar, there's much more at stake in the Commonwealth than just the nation's pride.

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