Death bed to Olympic Glory: The tale of one man’s grit and ambition
This story begins in Islampur, a small village in Sangli district in Maharashtra, with an apparently friendly wrestling match between the pampered son of a village headman and a twelve-year-old boy. Stunningly, the twelve-year-old wins and his reward is death threats from the villagers, who treat this as an insult to their headman. This forces the twelve-year-old to flee the village straight from the wrestling ring, hopping on to a goods truck with nothing but his winning purse, the then princely sum of Rs 12. Without his parents’ knowledge, he is now in Pune and joins the Indian army, where he takes up boxing and plays competitively, being seen as a rising sports star in the army. A few years down the line, he requests a posting in Kashmir and, soon after, he is part of a regiment staving off enemy fire. He is the target of seven bullets in the 1965 war at the Sialkot sector where a Pakistani bomber attacked their position, being hit on the skull, spine, cheek and thighs, and then having a jeep ran over him to add to it all. He is now bedriddeen for over two years and in addition to this, he also loses his memory and forgets his own name. One day, he falls off his hospital bed and hits his head on the floor. This helps him regain his memory. It is only six years later that his family traces him and comes to visit. Looking at his condition, they refuse to take him back, seeing him as an unmanageable burden. This turn of events motivates the young man to come up with a fancy plan to kill himself. As he lies in wait to execute his plan, he plays a game with his hospital attendant and wins Rs 40,000. This causes a change of heart. He checks himself out of hospital, and takes up competitive sport again. Vijay Merchant hears his story, sponsors his training and ‘Murlikant Petkar’ goes on to win swimming gold for India at the 1972 Paralympic Games in Heidelberg, Germany, also breaking the world record of the time.
No this is not some Bollywood script or a part of any fictional book. This is the real story of India’s first Paralympic gold medalist, Murlikant Petkar. Murlikant had also participated in three other events at the 72’ Games, including the javelin throw, making the finals in all, having also represented the country in table tennis.
This story behind his disability begs to be told. It is a tale of the man’s grit and determination. And what deserves rousing accolades and greater appreciation, more than his sporting achievements is the man’s spirit and resolve to beat the odds life has thrown at him.
Patekar prior to the Olympics also participated in the 3rd Commonwealth Paraplegic Games at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1970, Petkar bagged a gold in the 50 metre freestyle swimming, a silver in javelin throw and a bronze in shot-put. But that’s not it, before he was discharged from service in 1969, he had participated in the Maharashtra State Athletic Meet in 1967 and became state champion in the shot put, javelin throw, discuss throw, table tennis and archery.
In short- this man was immense. And this tale of his, proves to be another example of how a sport can have such an impact on people to bypass all the adversities in their life which they are facing and could aspire others towards the new possibilities in their life.