Avani Lekhara (Pic: Instagramfirstname.lastname@example.org)
After her heroics in Tokyo Paralympics, Avani Lekhara knows that expectations will be high in the Paris Games next year but pressure to perform works as a motivational force for this 'golden girl' of Indian para shooting.
"I would not say there is no pressure. After winning gold in Tokyo, I saw a lot of people who knew me and cheering for me. There are also high expectations but it gives me motivation to do better and better," Avani, who won a gold and a bronze in the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021, told PTI Bhasha in an interview.
"I feel that if a lot of people are looking up to me, it is my duty to give my best whenever I go to the field," she added.
Born in Jaipur in November 2001, Avani met with a road accident in 2012 that made her wheelchair-bound ever since. Her shooting career took off in 2015, inspired by Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra. She began her career with junior world records but she became a household name after Tokyo Paralympics where she became the first Indian woman Paralympian to win two medals (gold in 10m air rifle SH1 and bronze in 50m rifle 3 positions SH1).
"I take one day at a time. I just want to give my best and stay in the present. I do not like to sit on the past glory or think far ahead. For this year, major competitions are done so the focus is on Paris Paralympics and winning more medals for the country," said the recipient of Padma Shri and Khel Ratna awards.
"I am participating in multiple events in Paris Paralympics. I can't predict the medal but I just want that when I come out, I am able to say that I have done my best," said the 22-year-old.
Avani also won gold in the 10m air rifle SH1 event in the recent Hangzhou Asian Para Games. SH1 classification in rifle events is meant for para athletes with lower limb impairment.
She does not want to tinker with her training schedule. But, her focus would be learning from her mistakes.
"Training is the same as I believe that you should not change the tried and tested formula. I am focusing on my strength and learning from my mistakes. Hopefully, I will overcome those mistakes and perform even better in Paris," she said.
Currently training in her hometown Jaipur, Avani is not adverse to training abroad prior to Paris Paralympics.
"I am training in Jaipur and we have camps in Delhi too. I don't know about training abroad but the federation is planning something," she said.
She is happy with the recognition para sports and para athletes are getting in India and hopes for a better medal haul in Paris.
"I have seen a lot of differences in the overall scenario as far as para sports is concerned in India. Earlier it was not so inclusive, awareness was not there but now people talk about us and we are getting recognition. If everyone keeps supporting us, we will see a lot of milestones achieved in the next major competition," said Avani.
Asked if she considers herself to be in the peak of her career, she said, "I don't want to say that. I am just enjoying my game. I started in 2015 and it's already a journey of eight years.
"I just want to keep doing my best and shooting is a sport where age doesn't matter. I want to keep competing with the best in the world," she said.
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