Kids row into hearts as crowd cheers at regatta

Children with special needs compete on indoor rowing machines at the all India Inter-school Regatta at the Lake Club on Friday. Pictures by Gautam Bose

Calcutta: At least 28 differently-abled children drew the loudest cheers as they rowed at an all-India school regatta on Friday, three days after they had touched oars for the first time.

The boys and girls from Manovikas Kendra, a school for children with special needs, were visibly excited as they were led to the ergometers or indoor rowing machines during the indoor phase of the 46th KC Mahindra All India Inter-school Regatta at the Lake Club.

"We decided to include races for children with special needs because we wanted to introduce them to rowing in a safe environment," Shakil Ahmed of Lake Club, the tournament joint convener, said.

"Gradually, they can switch to boats and prepare for the Paralympic Games."

On Friday, children representing their schools in the open category acted as their mentors, helping them position themselves on the machines and fasten their feet on the footplates and encouraging them to pull harder and updating them on their positions.

"I have participated in some events for special children. But this was the first time I competed with everyone... there were children from so many schools," Aayushi Banerjee, who studies in Level IX at Manovikas Kendra, said.

"When the audience called out my name and kept cheering as I rowed, I felt very happy," she said.

Aayushi won the girls' race by a narrow margin.

Shahnawaz Khan with "hearing and speech impairment and learning difficulties" has represented the country in softball in the Paralympic Games.

Aayushi Banerjee

He gestured with his hands to say "very nice" when Metro asked how was his first indoor rowing experience.

The children had practised on two rowing machines that an NGO, Bengal Watersports, provided the school ahead of the tournament.

Paresh Das, sports teacher at Manovikas Kendra, said there were long queues of children eager to qualify for the competition.

"They were excited about the new sport."

Many of them said they loved rowing and would continue to practise.

Shahnawaz Khan

Kuspreet Kaur Brar, 15, from St Thomas School, who helped the children, said they left her inspired.

"I felt motivated cheering for the students from Manovikas Kendra. It was as if we became a team," Brar who went on to win the junior indoor gold in the open category said.


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