India’s most accomplished para-athlete, javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia rewrote his world record with a throw of 65.71m at the national trials in Delhi on Wednesday, in the process earning a ticket to the Tokyo Paralympics. But the achievement could hardly brighten the 40-year-old’s rather pensive mood. Jhajharia lost his father, also his biggest fan, to cancer in October last year.
“I know I have rewritten my world record and earned a spot for Tokyo, but I still feel so empty and lost. Who will I tell about my latest accomplishment? I used to give my dad all the updates. He would get so excited and call his friends in the village and tell them. He would say, ‘Why wait for others to call and congratulate? Let me call them first instead’,” Jhajharia told The Indian Express.
40-year-old Devendra Jhajharia rewrote his world record mark with a throw of 65.71m (F 46) in the trials on Wednesday and sealed a berth for the Tokyo Paralympics “I maybe 40 but I’m as passionate as any 20-year-old. Watch my clip & you’ll know,” he said. @IExpressSports pic.twitter.com/TfQ2WQoAEV
— Andrew Amsan (@AndrewAmsan) July 1, 2021
Jhajharia’s father would often accompany him to training venues and kept a tab on his performances. The para star athlete from Churu district of Rajasthan says he’s yet to come to terms with the loss. “When he was admitted in Jaipur for treatment, I left my training and stayed with him for a while. The doctors had told us he wouldn’t be with us for long. My father did not allow me to stay for long and asked me to resume my training. A month later, I received the dreaded message while I was at the national camp in Gandhinagar,” he recalls.
Jhajharia’s left arm had to be amputated almost up to the elbow when he was just eight after he suffered a jolt from a live wire dangling near a tree he was playfully climbing.
Jhajharia was close to hanging up his boots in 2018 after a grade two muscle tear in his right shoulder. He was 37 already and had two Paralympic gold medals and a couple of IPC World medals in his cabinet, but his desire to add to the tally wasn’t quenched as yet.
“It may sound like a cliché, but age is just a number. I know that I am not as fit as I was in my 20s but my hunger to excel is the same, if not more. Have a look at the video of my throw and you will know what I am talking about,” Jhajharia, who participates in the F46 category, claims.
He is right about the clip. In it, the thrower bursts into a series of roars the moment the spear leaves his arm at the national trials at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Wednesday. He knew it was a big throw, and seconds later it was confirmed as the mark of 65.71m was announced by an official.
‘Playing it smart’
Jhajharia, in consultation with his coach and physio, has adopted a training routine that focuses on recovery rather than high-intensity workouts. He explains that there is no point pushing the body beyond what it can take. “If I train in the morning, I make sure I have recovered fully before hitting the ground in the evening. At 40, my training routine can’t be the same that I followed two decades back. At this stage, my priority is to stay fit and avoid injuries,” he says.
Jhajharia, who trains in Gandhinagar, visited his family in Jaipur this month after six months. His wife Manju, a former national-level kabaddi player, understands the sacrifices elite athletes have to make. “My wife and my 10-year-old daughter understand, but my son is just six. He calls me up every day when I am at the camp to ask me when I would return. Woh toh kehta hai, ‘Papa, kal hi ghar aa jao’. (He says, Dad, come home tomorrow.) It’s difficult. But the strict bio-bubble and travel restrictions at the national camp make it impossible for me to meet them regularly,” Jhajharia says.