World Polio Day: Janak's story

October 24, 2013
Today marks World Polio Day. Read about the remarkable young Indian who, thanks to a sport for development charity project, battled back from the debilitating effects of the illness to become a Paralympic star of the future.
“When I was young I loved sport. I used to go to watch the village cricket teams and, after the games, I would really want to shake the players’ hands and congratulate them...
…but they didn’t even want to touch my hand. No one wanted to be touched by me.”
The only ‘crime’ the young man who says these words committed was that of suffering polio at a young age.
For most, it must seem unimaginable how anyone could be treated with such brutal heartlessness.
But that is to disregard the fact that the young man in question, Janak Singh (pictured above), was born into an environment where being disabled is to be excluded from society and to expect the taunts of his peers around him.
Janak is one such disabled young man.
And so, despite being remarkably polite, well spoken and manifesting a passion for sport that made him a Paralympic hopeful of the future, Janak was forced to suffer this inhumane treatment day after day.
As a young boy, Janak, now 19, was crippled by the effects of polio, a debilitating illness that can cause the paralysis of limbs, and consequently suffered the loss of use of his legs from an early age. In as much, and through no fault of his own, he was left to live his early life fighting for acceptance along with the rest of India’s stigmatised disabled community.
On this treatment of the disabled, Janak goes on to say: “The situation is worse in India than any other country. If I was still in my home village… I would be treated as nothing.”
Luckily for Janak, which of course can not be said for every young disabled person in the country, he was identified by the youth sports project IMAGE, which is supported by Laureus, at an early age.
It was here that his passion for sport was both nurtured into talent and focused to help him become the confident young man he is today.
Of his experiences at the community sports project, Janak says: “IMAGE gave me the confidence to think that I could do something with myself.”
Now Janak has travelled the world in order to train at the best wheelchair racing facilities available.
In recent years, Janak’s talent for wheelchair racing has even seen him travel to London, England to take advantage of the facilities available and further his chances of racing for India at the Paralympic Games one day.
Experiencing the rigours of training in London was challenging for Janak, who says he had always relied on natural talent for his success on the track.
But the impact of this was entirely positive in terms of his lasting feelings for finding success in his sport.
Janak says: “It was only at the end of my time in London that my interest in the sport had become so great that I realised I would never be prepared to give up.”
As a testament to Janak’s maturity and natural leadership abilities, he now speaks of how he longs to open a sports centre for the disabled in his home country one day.
Janak said: “I want to have a centre where any disabled person can come and work with me.
 “If I’m successful in wheelchair racing, maybe that might encourage others to follow me and help start a place where any disabled person will have an open door.”
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