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by Ankita Jain

The paralympic games has failed to capture the public attention it deserved. That is, until now. But the 2021 Asian Youth Paralympics is special, not just for the record-breaking performances at the games, but also the shift in public perception towards over thousands of Nepalis living with disabilities.

And now, Nepali para-athlete, Palesha Goverdhan’s stupendous performance in Bahrain must inspire us to make mobility accessible, affordable, safe and reliable.

Taekwondo player Palesha became the first Nepali to win a gold medal at the Asian Youth Para Games in below-58 kgs weight category. The 18-year-old teenager who has faced hardships one after the other, has always chosen to bounce back. Palesha story is a great example of resilience.

Palesha was born without her left palm. She took her disability chose to make it her strength going on to become the first Nepali woman to win a medal at the Paralympics.

“At first I was very curious to know why I was different from others. Everyone around me looked perfect and the only thing that disturbed me was my appearance,” she shares.

Her insecurities grew stronger when she was not allowed to wear a normal t-shirt with half sleeves just to stop people from staring and taking about her. And this led her to become an aggressive child. “I was rebellious. I was always ready to fight anyone who commented about my disability,” Palesha recalls.

Palesha joined taekwondo as part of her extra curriculum activities in school and started performing quite well within a few months. “I was living in a cocoon until I joined taekwondo. It changed me in such a way that I felt free. From then on, I was never afraid to show who I was,” she shares.

In taekwondo mostly kicking techniques are applied. Hands are only used for blocking. “Dipesh Mahat, a friend of mine, despite being differently abled is passionate about taekwondo. He was such a great influence on me and he motivates me to carry on,” she says.

Palesha says, “My coach was so impressed that he approached me to participate in the national games.” In grade six, Palesha won a black belt and in grade eight, she officially started playing in the international arena. During the same year, she won her first bronze medal at the Asian Championship held in Vietnam.

After winning the bronze, Alsiha went through a spate of defeats. Hopeless and drained by trying and failing every time, she had begun to hate going for training. “That was the time I thought of quitting. I was on this path where I was not winning anywhere, I failed at exams and was even failing at taekwondo which was my passion,” she states.

Her mother pushed her to try for Paralympics for one last time. “She was sure that I would bring home a gold and I did. My mother would pray for me,” Palesha smiles emotionally. Her family gave the moral support she needed, and Palesha decided to move past her uncertainties and doubts to give the game everything she had.

In a nation where sporting culture is sacrificed at the altar of academic excellence, any news about success on the turf has to be treated as a system-altering result. The challenges for the differently-abled are tougher, considering that the athletes have to overcome their physical and mental limitations besides the sheer willpower needed to overcome social stigmas attached to disability.

A simple access-audit of Nepal’s urban buildings will reveal how even a ramp essential for the differently-abled is either missing or added as an after-thought. Thus, the achievements of Palesha who surmounted the odds to represent her nation and win must be celebrated all the more for us to become a truly inclusive Nepal. 

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