As newborns, Priyanka and Rani brought despair to their parents but a home for children with special needs in West Bengal's Howrah, set up with funds provided by French author Dominique Lapierre, helped them to qualify for the Indian handball team that will participate in the 2023 Berlin Special Olympic Games.
They secured their berths in the team at the national coaching camp held at Sonepat in Haryana in October, their coach Tamal Chatterjee told PTI.
Besides their physical challenges, they also have a disadvantaged family background.
Born to an autorickshaw driver father and housewife mother of Hatgacha village in Howrah, Priyanka was admitted to the CCI Home for Children With Special Needs (CWSN) Girls at Kathila when she was four years old.
Now 16, she has an intellectual disability and total hearing impairment but overcame the odds to be a champion handball striker.
Spotting her talent, the coach introduced Priyanka to various sports and she later proved her mettle in handball, said Johnmary Barui, the director of Asha Bhavan Centre which runs the CCI Home.With the help of an intervention programme for overall development, Priyanka is now fully independent in her daily life and also helps her roommates, Barui said.
Lapierre was a regular visitor to the CCI Home for CWSN Girls. He would also interact with the girls, Barui said, adding that the famous French author helped with funds in setting up the institute.
Priyanka's teammate Rani was born to hearing-impaired parents. She was rescued from Howrah station by Childline as a runaway child when she was very young and was sent to Asha Bhavan Centre.
Rani, now 13, is a student of class 8 at Karat Beria High School. She has a 75 per cent intellectual disability and her IQ level is as low as 44, Barui said.
Noticing her love for sports, she was introduced to various sports under the supervision of coach Chatterjee and later she excelled in handball.
Priyanka and Rani told PTI, through an interpreter, in sign language that they are excited to participate in the special olympics, scheduled to be held from June 17 to 25 next year."I want to win a gold medal for India in handball," Priyanka said.
Rani said, "I will try to give my best in the special olympics and practice very hard for it."Coach Chatterjee said Rani is a talented striker while Priyanka is good at throwing and snatching the ball from opponents.
Both of them can grip the ball very well, which is very essential in handball, he said.
Barui said the other children of the special home are excited after learning that Priyanka and Rani were selected to play in the special olympics.
"Now, they have become role models for the other kids at the home," he added.
Mohammad Mohiuddin, the chief of Unicef in West Bengal, said that after learning about the achievements of Priyanka and Rani in handball, they enquired about the duo and decided to motivate other children using them as examples.
They were featured in a Unicef film on child sportspersons who made significant achievements, because of their outstanding feats.