Para-badminton player Mark Dharmai shares his journey from the streets of Chimbai Village to becoming World number 3.
At Bandra’s Chimbai Village in Mumbai, this para-Olympian dons a fisherman’s hat every day. Standing tall despite his 4 feet and 2 inchs, 33-year-old Mark Dharmai is ranked world number 3 in badminton. As per the latest BWF rankings, 2017, he holds the 12th spot in men’s singles, the 9th rank in men’s doubles and 4th rank in mixed doubles.
Born with the dwarf-syndrome called ‘Achondroplasia’ to Jacob and Josephine, Mark defines the never- give-up attitude.
Fishing his roots
Speaking about his condition, Mark says,
It was quite a challenge for my parents, and l am unable to fathom how the two of them, particularly my mother Josephine, was able to bring me up during my formative years. It is her strength of character and willpower enhanced by the power of the Almighty which has got us thus far.
Hailing from the fishing community, or Kolis, Mark says the community would often, in the evenings, bond over a game of badminton, which is where young Mark caught on to the game.
Mark completed his graduation in commerce and accounting from St Andrew's College in Mumbai, and found strong support from his college administration. “l would be failing in my responsibility if l did not acknowledge the great emotional and moral support provided by the Late Father Laurie from St Andrew’s,” says Mark.
Making way into the sport
Introduced to badminton at the age of six, Mark realised early on that his physical condition may lead to mockery, and he this pushed himself hard at the game.
This is a perennial problem faced by all dwarfs in the country, and teasing, mocking, giggling, staring and name calling is par for the course. Everybody reacts differently but although not much has changed on the ground, l must confess that in my catchment area in Bandra, l experience no problem now. My successes at Badminton, both nationally and internationally, has enhanced my self-esteem.
Growing up, he saw his father, a fisherman, needed help with managing daily expenses. He began accompanying his father on fishing trips, but destiny had something else in store for the young man. Fisherfolk from the Chimbaikar community joined hands to sponsor Mark with his coaching and sports equipments.
Mark won the National Badminton Championship in the year 2010.
I’ve never considered giving up my dream, whatever roadblocks have plagued the way. I hope to make India proud, but I also hope to inspire people – a disability doesn’t need to define your life. The only person in control of your destiny is you.
Apart from badminton, Mark also plays hockey and football. On what led him to play multiple sports, he says,
Sports in Bandra, and especially for the East lndian community, has been the driving force. My uncle Leo Dharmai and his son Floyd are accomplished hockey and football players, having played at the Maharashtra State level. They initiated me into hockey and football, and in my category, l am still a very good hockey player.
This is just the beginning!
Mark has been playing sports at the National level for the past twenty-two years, and has bagged many medals. Despite several difficult situations and challenges, in 2017, he won the silver medal in discus throw and shot-put at Guelph in Ontario, Canada. He also won a silver medal at the Thailand Open Para Badminton International Tournament, in Bangkok.
In the recently-concluded BWF-Para Badminton World Championship 2017 held in South Korea, Mark won a bronze medal. The tournament saw participation from 41 countries, with India winning 10 medals. Mark is now focusing on the upcoming Asian Para Games in 2018.
Braving the odds
Mark’s journey has been tough. The infrastructure and support for para athletes leaves much to be desired. He adds,
I get several invitations by all political parties which offers tea, sandwiches, photo shoots and shawls, but there is no financial support forthcoming. My competitors in foreign countries are supported by their governments and the national federations.
Mark has been raising funds through crowd-funding platforms for his expenses.
I do not have a racket sponsor. And good rackets are upwards of Rs 10,000. I had two rackets and one pair of shoes until three weeks ago. But, l am very proud of playing for India. I get a lot of respect abroad, all people with dwarfism in badminton are my friends. Badminton keeps me going.
Mark looks up to champions like Saina Nehwal, Pullela Gopichand and Vimal Kumar. He adds the badminton scene has been evolving and continues to inspire Mark. he adds,
I am told badminton racket sales in lndia are astronomical. This has been made possible because of Saina Nehwal and Gopichand sir. And now we have Vimal Kumar sir, and there are several more champions who are bringing laurels to the sport.
Mark’s story from the lanes of Chimbai village to representing the nation inspires, and stands a testimonial to what courage and hard work can yield.