India's first woman to win a Paralympic medal Deepa Malik received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the highest sporting honour of India, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday from Ram Nath Kovind, the President of India. Subsequent to this, in an exclusive interview with Republic TV, Deepa Malik shared details of the latest feather on her cap. When asked about how she felt about receiving the award, she replied saying, "It comes as a validation of a long journey filled with its own share of challenges, happy moments, ups and downs. But it's a journey of growth where we have now become mainstream. It's so wonderful that I could also open doors for female para-athletes to look up to something and feel motivated about. It is first for a woman in India in para-sports so I feel very proud and I am sure this shall inspire many more young girls, ladies, woman. I am winning at 49 so I should say no bar to age, gender, and disability. We shall just concentrate on fitness and continue to win."
Speaking to Republic TV's Suyesha Savant about her journey so far and the challenges she faced and overcame, Deepa Malik said "When I started playing 15 years ago, there was not much talk about para-sports and anyone could hardly see a woman with a disability playing sports. For me, it was unconventional because I started at the age of 36 and at 40 I turned an athlete from a swimmer. At the age of 42, I was mastering the art of javelin throw."
Deepa Malik added "But when it was my turn to go to the Paralympics, my event changed and it became a shot put. When I was mastering shot put, I had to also attempt javelin throw at the Asian Games in 2018. For the next Paralympics, I had to learn discus throw. So I was winning medals in various different events and varying in the categories but even now Commonwealth Games, after 2010, hasn't included my disability category to represent my country."
"Even for the 2020 Paralympics, they are not offering me javelin throw and shot put. So for para-athletes, it is not so easy or defined even if we have a good world ranking and have the knowledge and the ability to win a medal. We don't get an opportunity. So I am proud that inspite of all this I have been continuously training. And I feel that all my major medals from 2014 to 2018, in which I have been selected for Khel Ratna after my previous medals where I got my Arjuna award, they are big medals including the first female Paralympic medal that I got from Rio in 2016. After I won my medal in Rio, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports introduced the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS)." Malik said.
"Some NGOs, corporates, and people including ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) supported my journey. So it has become far easier for athletes today and it has become inclusive. But when I began, things were not that easy so I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to each one who volunteered their time, money and effort. Whether they were trainers, coaches, gym, and nursemaids, everybody has supported my journey. I feel grateful and honoured and my biggest joy was when the President greeted me and said, 'Good to see you, Deepa. I hope to see you soon for another award'." Deepa Malik said to Republic Tv.