Competing in only his third international meet, Girisha had to overcome the anxiety of competing before a packed house, an atmosphere mostly alien to India’s para-athletes, at his first Paralympics.
Girisha’s reluctance to wear spikes and instead opt for a flip-flop was on account of being comfortable with an old deprivation — his parents, marginal farmers, couldn’t afford buy him shoes.
His technique — the scissor kick — is archaic, but one that has always worked for him. As a mischievous child in Hosanagara, Hassan, Girisha scaled fences in similar fashion when chased by his angry parents. Even while winning gold at a Commonwealth meet in 2006, he had taken off with his legs leading the rest of the body.
Girisha’s ‘review status’ at the Games — he was competing in the category of jumpers with disability in both legs — meant there was additional pressure on him. “I had to overcome many challenges before and at the Paralympics, but winning the silver has made it all worth it,” Girisha, 25, said from London.
Four months earlier at the Malaysian Open Athletic Meet, where he qualified for the Paralympics, Girisha adopted the commonly used Fosbury Flop technique, but going into the Games decided to put his faith in the ‘scissor’.
“Most of his rivals were using hi-tech spikes, but we decided to go with what Girisha is comfortable in. The rubber chappal on his left foot protected his weaker limb, while his right foot, the one with which he takes off, was bare,” Girisha’s coach Satyanarayana said from London.
Satyanarayana said that while his ward followed every fitness drill prescribed by Russian-born coach Yevgeny Nikitin, Girisha’s energy bar equivalent wasn’t supplements or vitamins. “He would drink tender coconut water, kernel and fruits and never wanted to tamper with his diet too much. He is a village boy and right through his career has remained true to his roots,” Satyanarayana said.
The para-athlete’s cousin Harish recalled how his parents were too poor to think of taking Girisha to a doctor when he was born, and “believed that he had polio”.
But Girisha never let his disability discourage him. “He was very naughty as a child. But he never sympathized with himself or wanted any sympathy from others. That’s how his parents brought him up. His friends would tease him, but instead of getting upset, he became more determined to make a name for himself,” Harish said.
On Monday night, against some of the best in the world, Girisha did exactly that.