Avani Lekhara’s journey from her home in Jaipur to the Tokyo Paralympic Games catapulted her to national fame thanks to her double medal. The calm and gentle 19-year-old made history by becoming the first Indian woman to win gold at the Paralympic Games. She sets a record equivalent to the world record in the women’s 10m R2 air rifle SH-1 event (for athletes with lower limb disabilities). A few days later, she added a bronze to her collection at the SH1 women’s 50m three-position event. This was her first international medal in the three-position competition.
Lekhara’s achievement made her the second Indian to win multiple medals in the same Paralympic Games; Joginder Singh Sodhi won three medals at the 1984 Games. But all this wasn’t so easy for her. There were mental demons to fight and the challenge of adapting to their malfunctioning lower body.
In 2015 Lekhara started training under the guidance of trainer Chandra Shekhar. She also got former Olympic air rifle player Suma Shirur as her trainer. Her first international medal was a bronze medal at the Para Sport Shooting World Cup (WSPS) 2017 in Bangkok. She followed it with a silver medal and a junior world record at the WSPS World Cup in the United Arab Emirates the same year. Two more silver medals came at the 2019 and 2021 World Championships in Croatia and the United Arab Emirates, before finally taking gold in Tokyo.
During the lockdown period ahead of Tokyo, the Indian sports authority arranged for Lekhara to have a digital target installed in her home in Jaipur, where she would practice for the 10-meter air rifle event. Her trips for events in foreign and equipment requirements were taken care of by the government under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme.
After winning gold in the Paralympics, Lekhara thanked all her team and said these medals were purely a team effort. “We have a very wonderful team—coaches J.P. Nautiyal, Suma ma’am, Harsh Rana—it is a very friendly environment and that helps a lot,” said Lekhara.