On August 28, Paralympian Deepa Malik was conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award by President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi, making her the first and the oldest Indian woman para-athlete to win the award.
The award was given to Deepa Malik for her outstanding performance at Asian Para Games and Rio Paralympics in 2018 and 2016 respectively. In 2016, Deepa scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman Paralympian to have won a medal at an international event. She won a silver medal in the shot put F53 category in the 2016 Rio Paralympics. In 2018, she won the bronze medal for javelin throw in Asian Para Games.
She has now become only the second para-athlete after double Paralympic gold-medallist javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia to have received the recognition.
“This whole journey has been more about changing the attitude of people towards disability and the hidden potential in people with disability,” she said after receiving the award.
She further mentioned that the award will become a huge inspiration for disable women athletes. “It took 70 years for independent India to win a medal by a woman athlete in Paralympics,” she added.
Last three times, Malik was ignored for the award, which made her as well her well-wishers to criticise the government’s decision. Deepa was also awarded Padma Shri award in 2017 and Arjuna Award for Athletics in 2012.
Deepa, an army man’s daughter, was born on September 30, 1970, in Haryana. In 1999, Deepa’s life took a sharp turn when doctors found out a spinal tumour. Despite undergoing three surgeries, she was paralyzed below the waist. However, the disability couldn’t cage her free spirit. After the surgery, she successfully handled catering services for seven years.
In 2008, she achieved something which nobody anticipated. She swam a distance of one kilometre against the current in Yamuna river to put her name in the Limca Book of Records.
At the age of 40, she entered the world of sports. As of now, she has 58 national and 18 international medals to her name. Last year, she won a gold medal at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix in a discus throw event.
Interestingly, Deepa is also an avid bike rider. She has covered a distance of 1,700 km in 8 days for a biking tournament called Raid De Himalayas. Deepa might not be able to stand literally, but she has stood for a lot of physically disabled people who had given up on their lives and is an inspiration to them.
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