Earlier this week at the Tokyo Paralympics, India achieved a historic first when Avani Lekhara became the first Indian woman to claim gold at the Paralympics – or Olympics.
The 19-year-old Lekhara won the women’s 10m air rifle standing SH1 event with a score of 249.6, which broke the Paralympic record and tied the world record. China’s Zhang Cuiping claimed silver and Ukraine’s Iryna Shcetnik earned bronze.
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“I can’t describe this feeling, I’m feeling like I’m on top of the world. It’s unexplainable,” Lekhara told Olympic Information Service (OIS) after her gold medal-winning performance.
India, the world’s second most populous nation with 1.33 billion people, has now won a total of six gold medals in Paralympic history and 10 gold medals at the Olympics. But all of those medals – minus Lekhara’s – were earned by men.
Lekhara is also only the third Indian woman to win a Paralympic medal of any color, joining Deepa Malik (silver in shot put F53 at the 2016 Rio Paralympics) and Bhavina Patel (silver in table tennis C4, also at the Tokyo Paralympics).
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In 2012, Lekhara sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident. “While our family was on the way to Dholpur from Jaipur, our car skidded and overturned,” her father Praveen told the Times of India. “My wife, son Arnav and I suffered injuries which healed with time, but Avani ended up with a damaged spinal cord. The girl who used to love dancing and extracurricular activities in school suddenly found herself in a dark corner.”
It was Praveen who encouraged her daughter to try para sports, introducing her to both archery and shooting.
“My father took me to the shooting range,” Lekhara recalled to OIS. “I shot some shots and they were pretty OK. So I just started as a hobby, and here I am.”
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How to watch the Tokyo Paralympics
NBC will provide over 1,200 hours of Paralympic coverage. Here are some highlights: