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Cycling coach yet to come out of Abu Dhabi trance

Witnessed how sports could change lives of special kids at World Games, says Lakhan Hansda

By Jayesh Thaker in Jamshedpur
  • Published 25.03.19, 11:38 AM
  • Updated 25.03.19, 11:38 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Lakhan Hansda The Telegraph picture

Seven days of a global sporting extravaganza with thousands of players and volunteers from over 200 countries, heart-felt performances, smiles, tears and applause.

As curtains fell on Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 on March 21, Jharkhand’s cycling coach Lakhan Hansda, 30, who went as a part of the Indian contingent was just overcome, he told this reporter on Sunday.

The global sports event for intellectually impaired players, held across nine venues at Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including the spectacular Zayed Sports City Stadium, will stay on in his memory “till I am alive”, said the soft-spoken Lakhan.

Zayed Sports City stadium also held the FIFA Club World Cup with Real Madrid and AFC Asian Cup with Qatar.“I’ve never seen such a stadium or such a spectacle in my life,” said the tribal cycling star who hails from Damodih village in East Singhbhum, referring to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games and how the entire event was flawlessly conducted.

“The fireworks, the players, the cheering crowd, everything was just wonderful,” he smiled.

His only regret?

“I wish my student Priyanshu Patro (part of the seven-member Jharkhand team representing India) won a medal,” he said.

“The boy was doing so well, but he changed lanes and was disqualified. If he won a medal, I would have been the happiest,” the coach in him was affected.

But Lakhan said he was extremely proud that India won 368 medals this time, including 85 gold, this time during this event. “All sportspersons in India I think were inspired,” he added.

It was the first offshore trip for Lakhan, Jharkhand’s lone international cyclist — meaning someone who has donned the India jersey in a meet — who last won a bronze for Jharkhand at the 2011 National Games.

For the past few years, Lakhan has been training mentally impaired cyclists under the aegis of Special Olympics Jharkhand. Lakhan, who comes from a poor farming background, did not get a government job and even now grows paddy to supplement his income.

Back in Damodih village in Potka block of East Singhbhum, some 25km from Jamshedpur, Lakhan added that his stay in the Abu Dhabi hotel was also a dream.

“It was dazzling, beyond my imagination,” he said, referring to Radisson Blu, the hotel they were put up in.

“Mutton, chicken, machhli aur Chinese sab tha khane mein. Bahut maza aaya. Aisa khana kabhi nahin mila (Mutton, chicken, fish, Chinese, there was everything to eat. Had a lot of fun. I’d never had such food before),” he said simply.

Anything else? “I also drank lot of fruit juices. Even that was new,” he recalled.

Any shopping?

“No, there was no time. I used to go to the stadium in the morning and stay there the whole day. I’d come back at night, have my dinner and hit the bed,” the humble cycling star said.

Special Olympics Jharkhand assistant area director Satbir Singh Sahota said Lakhan had started loving his job as a trainer of intellectually impaired cyclists.

Lakhan had also guided state cyclists to claim 10 medals at the Special Olympics National Cycling Championship that was held in Ranchi last year.

So, what was Lakhan’s takeaway from his Abu Dhabi experience?

“I realised that sports can change lives,” he said, his voice serious. “I saw how sports brought so much joy to special players and their families from across the world. It was moving.”