Feet shoulder width apart. His posture, firm and upright. In one fluid motion, he pulls the arrow with his teeth to an anchor point, aims, and then bang! He doesn’t flinch nor does he wobble. A release as clean as possible. And the arrow flies with perfection to hit the inner yellow circles! What a normal archer does with his arms, this extraordinary athlete does it with his teeth! Now imagine pulling 50-60 kg poundage with your teeth. Seems like a joke, doesn’t it? Well going against all odds, this incredible man has mastered it. Mr Abhishek Thaware, the first teeth archer of India.
“All I knew was that I want to make a career in sports. And I was willing to do anything to make that happen. So when all other options were closed, I tried this one. I am not a teeth archer by choice. It is something that destiny has made happen. And somehow I am glad it happened. I consider myself lucky”, he said to Sports Possible.
Abhishek’s right arm was affected with polio due to doctor’s negligence. When he was a year old, to cure his fever, the doctors gave him an injection which caused an infection in his right hand, rendering it useless. Nevertheless, Abhishek was treated like a normal kid and sent to a normal school. He was always inclined towards sports and took to athletics while playing at the state and national levels, grabbing medals all the way. However, the year 2010 saw an unexpected turn of events when a serious knee injury left Abhishek no choice but to quit athletics. He could no longer run.
“That was a big blow for me. I had been a para-athlete for almost a decade. And all of a sudden it had all come crashing down. I tried to continue, but my knee would hurt every single time. Sadly, within a year of my ligament operation, I had to accept the fact and listen to the doctor’s advice to quit. But my dream of making sports my career had not shattered yet. I was still hoping,” he said.
“That is when I came across archery. And to my surprise, the first arrow I released hit the target. Even though I aimed it from a short distance, the feeling that it was a successful hit was absolutely amazing. This was something new, something unique. It was also very challenging. And I wanted to take it up”, he adds.
Abhishek’s close friend, Sandeep Gawai was the one who introduced him to teeth archery. “Sandeep dada and I used to go to watch archery matches in the city. And I always liked this sport. I like watching any sport in fact. He forced me to try my luck at archery. I was reluctant at first because it is an expensive sport and belonging to a lower-middle-class family, I did not have the money.” Abhishek’s first archery set, a second-hand set, was purchased from the money gathered by mortgaging his mother’s jewellery. And today, he has made his mother proud. “The constant support of my mother and a few close friends is what gives me confidence.”
When asked about how he makes this happen, he says, “It is not easy. During the initial days, I suffered from tremendous pain in my neck and shoulder. But with some training and physiotherapy, I adapted to it. Archery needs a lot of mental strength, concentration and energy. We focus on scoring maximum points. It is totally a mind game.” To pull the arrow he uses a mouthpiece made from a strong cloth material. ” Apart from this, ayurvedic toothpaste and chewing gum are my constants! And I strictly avoid aerated drinks!”
Abhishek, who resides in Nagpur, occasionally visits his coach, Mr Chandrakant Ilag, in Buldhana, Maharashtra. “I make a Buldhana trip in the summers for one month and during the Diwali vacation for a week. At times when Chandrakant Sir is free, he calls me over. There have also been times of emergency when I had to visit him to get my equipment repaired.” Mr Chandrakant Ilag runs the Dhyanchand academy in Buldhana.
Abhishek does not have the privileges that a talented athlete should have. Buldhana is six hours away from Nagpur. And Nagpur has no proper facilities, neither a proper coach nor a training centre. There is not even a dedicated ground. Only recently, the ground which he was supposed to practise on was being used for some other purpose. Consequently, Abhishek could not practise for an upcoming competition. He then had to go about looking for another ground.
When asked whether the Government is of any help, he says, “Today prominent media channels like Aaj Tak, IBN, News Nation have covered my story. But I have not received any support or benefit from the Maharashtra Government yet. Abhi tak koi madat nahi mili. A little help will surely improve my game. Maharashtra’s state policy is not like that of the other states. There are not much provisions for para athletes in Maharashtra. A lot of talent goes waste”
Abhishek never pitied himself nor did he sit and watch his life pass by. Instead, he has taken charge of it. His willingness and determination to achieve his dreams moulded him into what he is today. He has overcome difficulties at every stage in life. He faces challenges every now and then. But that doesn’t deter him from working towards his goal. He is now preparing for some upcoming international tournaments including World Championship Para Archery Beijing, IWAS Games Sharjah and World Cup Indoor. He wants to represent India internationally. His main focus though is on the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
A person so humble and down to earth, he is a true inspiration. Friendly by nature he’ll make you feel comfortable the moment you strike a conversation with him. He dreams of opening a nice restaurant in the future. “I want to start a restaurant of my own. I love eating and I am crazy about food. Paneer Tikka Masala is my favourite dish. I don’t cook that great so I’ll hire the best cooks!” In his spare time, Abhishek runs his own archery academy. “I try to pass on the knowledge that I have gained over these years. I really enjoy teaching the kids. They are very talented and are eager to learn,” he says beaming with satisfaction. To create an awareness about the sport he had organised an archery competition earlier this year. Almost 80 kids participated in the event called the ‘Jai Hind Ekta Sports Festival’.
Abhishek has all the potential to be successful internationally but in a way lack of funds has been holding him back. He has been looking for sponsors for a long time, but no luck yet. Getting a sponsor will definitely make things simpler. He works really hard and hopes that this hard work pays off. Support is what some of our athletes yearn for. And it is our duty to give them that respect. Because a little support can make a huge difference.