It is an extraordinary experience when one gets to offer a cup of tea to the honorable Prime Minister of the Country. This is an opportunity availed most confidently and modestly by Mantra Jitendra Harkhani, 19 yrs, an Athlete hailing from Rajkot, Gujarat. Having won two Gold Medals in Swimming at the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019 Abu Dhabi, he shared his feat in a one-on-one conversation with the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi held on 25 Jan 2021, on the occasion of being one of the 32 awardees of the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar 2021.
Mantra, born with Down’s Syndrome, dreams to be world’s best swimmer. He is currently in the 12th grade of the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and is also visiting his family store, called Mantra’s Mart, to get accustomed to managing money transactions. Mantra is a cheerful young man, who enjoys the company of his friends, practices yoga and is fond of singing and dancing. This is not a picture presented to his parents when he was born. His diagnosis and the possibility of developing other medical complications left them disillusioned.
Many challenges fell on the path of his parents be it from the family members, who constantly compared him with other children his age, or his school where the teachers came back frequently with disappointing news of him being unable to ‘cope’. The resolve of his parents witnessed sacrifices because what they envisioned was a life of achievements for Mantra. While his father, Mr Jitendra Harkhani, didn’t hesitate to switch jobs, his mother Ms Bijal Harkhani, opened an Integrated School, also involving herself in designing a functional based curriculum for Children with Intellectual Disabilities.
His introduction to sports brought a whole new direction that felt positive. His attraction to water was leveraged by his parents by taking him to the nearest pool for about two years before he actually started to swim, which was at the age of 10. His first experience of Swimming as part of SO Bharat was in 2014 when he participated in the district games, receiving his training under the Coach Vipul Das. It was a whole new experience. “Everything was new. However, that one sporting event continued into a journey placing him on a global mega platform. It transformed Mantra as well as us. With each Camp that he went for, he returned a notch more confident, more independent. We hesitated to send him for his first camp because we were unsure that he would be able to look after himself. We soon learnt to shed that anxiety. This is the impact of Special Olympics”
Looking at Mantra, while his parents count their blessings, they feel concerned about the avenues open for him now that would establish him to be part of the mainstream society