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23 medals and one big dream: specially-abled athlete struggles to procure a racing wheelchair for this year’s Asian Para Games

Amoolya Rajappa
posted on 6th February 2018
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Gulfam Ahmed is nursing a dream of winning a Asian Para gold for India.

According to Gulfam Ahmed, there is just one thing that is in the way of him inching towards a victory in the Asian Para Games - a racing wheelchair that costs at least Rs 1.5 lakh. However, that is yet to dampen the high spirits of this 27-year-old, who admits that “his preparations are underway already”.

Born into a poor family hailing from Bijnor district in Uttar Pradesh, Gulfam was attacked by polio at the age of one. His family, subsequently, migrated and settled in Delhi, so that Gulfam could get access to proper treatment. Though he started his studies late, Gulfam completed his higher secondary education from a government school and went on to do an ITIL course in computer operations.

Overcoming limitations

“I was always fond of maintaining a good body, and I continuously worked out in the gym in my teenage years. It was my gym instructor who first introduced me to the world of sports for the specially-abled,” says Gulfam, recalling the first National Championship he won in 2008.

Thanks to his regular workouts and strict discipline, Gulfam’s muscle strength and stamina in his hands was terrific. “That’s what led me to choose power lifting as my major category of sports,” says Gulfam, who is credited to have won 23 medals in various State and national tournaments in the last decade.

Due to his paraplegic condition, Gulfam used to crawl to move everywhere before he underwent a life-changing hip release surgery in 2013, which, he says served as the biggest turning point of my life.

Though a yearlong recovery was suggested, Gulfam surprised the doctors when he started walking using his crutches within just three months.

And since then there’s has been no turning back for this ambitious sportsperson who has won several laurels in differently-abled sporting categories like shot put and taekwondo, apart from power lifting.

Athlete, model, comedian and an aspiring paralympian

“Having been able to use the wheelchair for my commute has given me the much needed confidence and independence,” says Gulfam, adding, that he still prefers to use his crutches when it comes to covering small distances.

There’s more to the personality of young Gulfam who was also crowned Mr Wheelchair India 2015. Apart from his passion for bodybuilding and modelling, Gulfam is also into stand-up comedy and motivational speaking.

It was only last year when Gulfam realised that he has the potential to compete even in the wheelchair racing category.

I participated in a marathon in Delhi organised by Dr Lal Singh's Foundation. To my surprise, I finished the race on my wheelchair with a very good timing.

Some online research is all it took Gulfam to acquaint himself with more specifics on athletic wheelchair racing, concerned championships and previous world records.

Prepping for the ultimate goal

I first started practising with my normal wheelchair in grounds and parks around my area. I found out the world record for 100 metres in my category (which is wheelchair athletes with spinal cord injuries or amputations) was a little over 14 seconds. Through regular practice, I now cover 100m in over 17 seconds on my wheelchair, claims a confident Gulfam.

“A little more practice on the professional racing wheelchair will be a great push for me,” he further adds. The access and procurement of the racing wheelchair is a must for Gulfam, without which he cannot participate in the upcoming National and Asian Para Games.

Gulfam has now started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to buy the much needed racing wheelchair, the base price for which is touted to be at Rs 1.5. lakh. “More sophisticated and customised models can also cost up to Rs 4.5 lakh,” says Gulfam, who is disheartened at the lack of appropriate funding and support from the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI), a non-profit that is committed to the development of sports for physically-challenged people.

Having had to completely give up power lifting after his hip surgery, Gulfam is only keen on taekwondo and athletic wheelchair racing to keep winning medals.

Taekwondo on wheelchair is only restricted to national level, whereas wheelchair racing is a set category in many tournaments like Asian Para Games, Commonwealth and Paralympics. Hence, for me, to master this sport is crucial, says Gulfam, who also works as a market executive in a private firm in Noida.

Aiming to reach glorious heights

An undying love for sports and determined willpower has seen Gulfam through all the difficulties and hardships in his life. However, even after 23 medals in his kitty, this specially-abled athlete is left to fuel his Olympic dream on his own. But there’s no stopping Gulfam, who is resolute about winning an Asian Para gold for India.

With the Asian Para Games set to commence coming October, there is not enough time left for Gulfam to obtain and then practice on the specialised wheelchair. Nevertheless, Gulfam has already began watching YouTube videos of previous wheelchair races to gain a better understanding of the techniques used as he lacks any professional training from qualified coaches.

Ask him what keeps him so motivated and a hopeful Gulfam shares:

I’m blessed with a different identity and I want to keep building on that to reach glorious heights and win honors for the country. So, to achieve the same, the key is to keep on moving from one milestone to another.

“I also draw huge inspiration from my father who worked as a tailor and toiled hard to fend for me and my four big brothers. Through sports I’m also hoping to win scholarships that will improve the living conditions of my family,” he signs off.

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