This is the story of a 26-year-old para-athlete, Gowhar Ahmad, who overcame this physical disability to become the first para-athlete from Kashmir in water sports
New Delhi: “Where there is a will, there is a way,” says Gowhar Ahmad, a para-athlete from the Kenihama Nowgam village in the Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir, who has emerged from the shadows of despair to become a symbol of hope and resilience for people with disabilities. Gowhar was six-year-old when he met with an accident and lost his right leg. Back then he was too young to understand the challenges that lay ahead of him.
As a child, Gowhar did not know how grave his situation was, but over the years, he had to endure discomforting stares and isolation from his classmates and even a few staff members in school. Recalling those years, Gowhar Ahmad says,
“My classmates used to call me names and use stereotypical slang like ‘langda’ to address me. Except for one faculty member, nobody helped me access the washroom. In that teacher’s absence, I had to wait to use the washroom till I reached home.”
Gowhar was not able to offer Namaaz (prayers), like others in his family. He offered his prayers sitting on the chair in one corner. His brother, Bilal, used to carry him on his shoulders whenever the family had to evacuate the house during the disturbances in the Nowgam region.
His physical constraints weighed heavily on his mental health. Over the years he had recurrent thoughts about ending his life.* At one such extreme moment of crisis only the thought of his mother, Marima Bhanu, who never lost sight of him since he was a six-year-old boy, made him snap out of his despair.
The 26-year-old’s life took a turn in 2021 when he entered the world of Canoeing, after his physiotherapist, Dr Amreen, recommended him to join a sporting activity for his physical and mental well-being. He introduced Gowhar to Bilquis Mir, former international canoeing player and director at the Water Sports Centre in Nehru Park, Kashmir.
Gowhar Ahmad had never played any sport earlier and foraying into a water sport seemed way beyond his capabilities. Talking about Gowhar’s progress in the sport, Ms Bilquis said,
“I spent the first three months guiding Gowhar on basic gym practices. We needed at least two people to shift him from one piece of equipment to another. For the rest of the months, I worked on his endurance and strengthening his lower body.”
As a beginner, Gowhar would barely cover one kilometre on canoe, but today, he easily covers 7-8 kilometres, she informed.
After one year of intensive training, Gowhar Ahmad participated in the national Para-Canoe event in 2022, held at the Upper Lake in Bhopal and emerged as a formidable competitor, securing an impressive fourth position.
The 26-year-old has become the first para-athlete from Kashmir in water sports. The credit for this achievement was also the result of the unwavering support of his coach. Talking about Gowhar’s journey, Ms Bilquis said,
“I am glad I could help one Gowhar find a direction in his life. But there are so many Gowhars in Kashmir, in India, who need such support to come out of their despair.”
Gowhar’s extraordinary journey from overcoming severe mental health issues to being acclaimed nationally in water sport, is a testament to the power of persistence and an unyielding spirit.
* If you need support or know someone who does, please reach out to your nearest mental health specialist.
Vandrevala Foundation for Mental Health: 9999666555 or firstname.lastname@example.org
TISS iCall 022-25521111 (Monday-Saturday: 8 am to 10 pm)
Samarth by Hyundai in partnership with NDTV, is an initiative that seeks to promote inclusivity, change perceptions, and enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities.