Indian players have been participating in Paralympics since the year 1984. This year in the Tokyo Paralympics 2020, 54 Indian athletes are competing in nine sports. There is also an increased number of participation of Indians compared to the last Paralympic in Rio 2016. The Tokyo Paralympics will be held from 25 August to 6 September 2021.
For the first time ten shooters have qualified for the Paralympics. They were selected based on the scores of international competitions, national championships from May 2018 to July 5, 2021, and selection trials. This year two women shooters have qualified for the Paralympics. The two shooters are Rubina Francis and Avani Lekhara. In previous Para games, only one shooter had participated while no women shooters had participated. This year’s increase in participation is considered a huge progress.
Rubina Francis is a 21-year-old shooter from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. She was born with a disability in her leg. Her father Simon Francis is a mechanic in Jabalpur and her mother works in a private hospital as a nurse.
She secured her Paralympics quota for India at the Tokyo games after her win in the World Shooting Para Sports Cup in Peru held in June 2021. She won gold in the 10-metre air pistol women’s event. She created a new world record with a score of 238.1 points beating the world record of Aysegul Pehlivanlar of Turkey. In 2017 she won gold and set a junior world record in the 10m air pistol women team event at the World Shooting Para Sports Championship in Bangkok. She was qualified for the Asian Para Games in 2018 at the age of 19. In the year 2019, she won bronze in the world Para Championships in Croatia.
She has won a total of 15 medals in national and international events. According to the World Shooting Para Sports ranking, she is currently ranked number five in Women’s 10m Air Pistol.
She started to learn the basics of shooting in 2006 in a camp organised by an academy in Jabalpur. Francis took up sports professionally in 2015. Francis in her interview with Firstpost mentioned that she wanted to do something more than studies in school. When Gagan Narang’s shooting academy Guns for Glory had visited her school to advertise shooting, she told her father that she wanted to do the shooting. She registered herself and later got selected after several trials. Her parents were supportive of her decision and backed her. She developed an interest in shooting and thus her journey started. She then participated in state, pre nationals and national competitions.
Francis started her training at Jabalpur’s Gun for Glory. She was trained under coach Nishant Nathwani. After two years she started training at MP Shooting Academy in Bhopal in 2017 under Jaspal Rana who is the former shooter and the coach of the Junior Indian Pistol Shooting Team.
Rubina Francis overcame various challenges to get qualified for the Paralympics. In an interview with Hindustan Times, her father said, “Initially, we faced hardships as I didn’t have money to even afford petrol to take her to the academy in Jabalpur. I used to wait for hours during her practice session as I couldn’t afford to commute twice to the academy. Later, her mother started working at a private hospital to fulfil basic needs.”
“Shooting is not an easy sport to afford. However, my father tried all he could from his side. That was a big support. Another thing that helped me a lot was the fact that my parents were very open-minded throughout the whole process. We still see in our country that girls are not given as much freedom. But my parents never stopped me. They never stopped me from going to various competitions. When you are getting this kind of support, you feel validated in your choices. You feel as if you are on the right track,” said Rubina, reports The Bridge.
Rubina Francis is also grateful for the support from her coaches. They have helped her to bounce back losses. In her interview, she said that she would feel depressed due to a string of losses but her coaches would motivate her to get back. In May 2021, she fell sick and was tested positive for COVID-19, which affected her preparation for qualification events and training. It was not physically exhausting but also mentally. For more than a month she did not practice live shooting but her coach continued physical and mental training and also dry training. She got only five days of training in Peru. When she qualified for Tokyo it was a huge relief for her and her family.
With the support from her family and her coach, she was able to face her challenges and also make her way into the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics. Her last win gave her confidence to perform in major events. She says, her main focus is performing better and not the outcome of the competition.
She is participating in Women’s P2-10 m air pistol SH1 in the Tokyo Paralympics on August 31, 2021, Tuesday.
Featured Image Source: SportsKeeda