Chirag Thakur , 19 yrs, took the Special Olympics Athlete Oath in hindi to kick start the event- Virtual Skipping Championship on 23th June 2020. He had practised the oath a multiple time, owing to his participation in Unified Basketball in the SO World Summer games 2019 held in Abu Dhabi, UAE in March 2019, in specific and in Special Olympics in general.
Chirag is a student of the Sahyog school Mandi, Himachal Pradesh. When his coach Ms Geeta, looks at him now, she sees a totally different person. Her memory takes her back to 2008, when he joined the school, timid, shy, never spoke to anyone. Chirag’s challenges are not visible. He was born seemingly ‘normal’ but as he developed and digressed from the standard milestones, his parents got concerned. His father worked in the Public Works Department (PWD) as a daily wager in road construction. The struggle to make ends meet was already challenging enough, deterring him to move out of his way to support Chirag.
He went to the Govt school but was unable to cope with studies and also got aggressive when he saw others being preferred over him. He belonged to the mild category and passed Class 10 through the State Open School. Belonging to the Mild category and a problem in his eye, he was taught, stitching, painting, tailoring etc. that could fetch him a vocation.
After joining Special Olympics in 2008, he was exposed to sports and participated in Badminton and Basketball. Sports enabled a significant transformation in his behaviour as also in the environment in his house. His parents, who felt dejected so far, saw sports as an avenue of growth for their son. ‘If not studies, then sports could be his calling. He has represented India and won a Silver medal for it. Makes us feel so proud”. How much sports meant to the family could be understood by the strong support Chirag got from them throughout his participation.
Chirag was placed under the guidance of Coach Rajkumar throughout his preparation for the Abu Dhabi Games. Rajkumar has been with the State Chapter since its inception in 2002 , having seen Special Olympics percolating through all the twelve districts of the state. Professionalism and passion has grown equally within him. He had Chirag stay in his home for about 15 days , to tighten vigilance over him for the World games. Being the only representative from the state, Rajkumar placed his heart and soul into the prep sessions. Being a trainer with the Basketball Federation of India and also a SAI Coach Calcutta, he laid out a meticulous plan for Chirag covering fitness, skill and behaviour across 5-6 hours daily. His practise sessions were held with him alone and also with the other mainstream players. There was a clear shift from Chirag feeling awkward to blending so well with the rest. This was preceded with a separate briefing of the mainstream players as well.
But the greatest amount of success came from the streak to achieve and persevere that made Chirag push his limits, despite his challenges.
“The confidence and joy that the Athletes experience cannot be worded. Special Olympics enables each Athlete to be an achiever. For their participation they either get a medal or a ribbon. It is this sense of achievement that lifts their confidence manifold.” – Coach Rajkumar
It is pleasing to see someone like Chirag assist us with so much maturity and calm. During the lockdown he is teaching Yoga to the other residents of the facility. He helps in cooking and is always willing to contribute in other chores as well – Coach Geeta