“The Army Paralympic Node (APN) is a sports node established with the intention of serving specially enabled personnel of the Indian army. It was raised under the aegis of the Directorate General of Military Training (DGMT) at the Bombay Engineering Group (BEG) and Centre, Kirkee, Pune in June 2017.
The primary objective of the APN is to encourage the participation of serving para-athletes to excel in Paralympic sports. Achievements at the national and international level will boost the morale of the Para-athletes, enhance their self-esteem and rekindle their sense of belonging and give them a visible goal to strive for.”
Blood, guts, sweat, and tears are just a fraction of what it takes to forge a young civilian recruit into a gallant and upright soldier—one who will be tasked to attend to the nation's call at a moment’s notice. Military service does not give a lot in return except instil an unparalleled sense of purpose and an otherworldly devotion to duty. But what happens when a young soldier loses his life’s purpose? When he is sidelined from his commitment to duty for no fault of his own?
Countless young men have lost their limbs in the unforgiving and brutal nature of combat, rendering them ineffective in battle and subsequently brushed to the sidelines. The loss of a limb takes significant psychological toll on a soldier’s self-worth. Still in the prime of his youth, he questions his self-esteem, his worth in the organisation, and bears the guilt of not being there for his comrades.
An amputee soldier often remembers the times his legs have pushed through the rigorous route marches, the repetition of drills in training, and the cold steel of a rifle—aimed and primed to vanquish the nation’s enemies in life-and-death operations. Above all else, a soldier feels the uncertainty of employment and what may become of him if he gets discharged from service—or worse—forced to work in uniform from within the side-lines.
A program, which in its short three years of existence, has given disabled soldiers of the Indian Army a second shot at life, and has blessed the country with world-class athletes who have earned laurels for the nation at the highest level of para-sports.
Speaking about the purpose of the Army Paralympic Node (APN), Lieutenant Colonel SP Singh, the current officer-in-charge of the node, and an amputee himself (resultant of a mine blast injury during Operation Parakram) said, “The Army Paralympic Node is a sports node established with the intention of serving specially-enabled personnel of the Indian Army. It was raised under the aegis of the Directorate General of Military Training (DGMT) at the Bombay Engineering Group and Centre (BeG & C), Kirkee, Pune in June 2017.”
“The prime objective of the APN is to encourage the participation of serving para-athletes to excel in Paralympic sports. Achievements at the national and international level will boost the morale of our para-athletes, enhance their self esteem, and rekindle their sense of belonging giving them a visible goal to strive for,” added Singh.
The sports node currently has 30 athletes and have participated in many national and international international events. The APN currently offers five sports disciplines: archery, shooting, rowing, athletics, and swimming. When asked about the governing and administrative body of the newly-found node, Lt. Col. Singh said, “The APN is run under the administration of BEG and Centre with the Commandant of the BEG and Centre, Kirkee serving as the patron while the Deputy Commandant serves as the Chairman of the node.”
When asked about where prospective talent is scouted from, Lt. Col. Singh replied saying, “Scouting of talent is done through regular visits to the Artificial Limb Centre (ALC) in Pune along with the Military Hospital Kirkee and maintaining close liaison with their staff. Individuals from army units who have been rehabilitated at other centres are also urged to come to the node for trials following permission from the Army Sports Control Board (ASCB).”
He also touched upon an amputee soldier’s journey, which traverses from fighting a grievous injury to fighting for the Olympic dream as a para-athlete: “The journey of a disabled soldier into the gruelling world of Paralympic sports first begins by breaking the mental barrier of disability and turning this perceived weakness into a strength. The soldier should be in a positive frame of mind and must believe in his abilities.
“After successfully joining the node, the para-athlete is rigged out with the best mobility equipment available in the market based on the level of the soldier’s physical impairment and para-sports discipline. The athlete undergoes rigorous training under the supervision of a qualified coach and an army of support staff. The node’s veteran athletes who have made a name for themselves at the international level and earned laurels for the nation serve as mentors to the nodes newly inductees. The node is highly structured and takes care of every aspect of their training to include diet, nutrient supplements, sports, personnel kit with military efficiency,” the officer-in-charge said.
“It is not just about sports, our node gives our soldiers a new direction, a task, and a purpose. It empowers them with a positive attitude, the much-needed camaraderie, teamwork, and most importantly self-respect. It brings them back to the healthy lifestyle that a life in the services normally bestows upon a soldier. Furthermore, all incentives and benefits entitled to sportsmen of the Indian Army are applicable to the same degree to our para-athletes including fast-tracked promotions prospects for a display of unparalleled excellence in sports,” Singh added.
Lt. Col. Singh’s own experience as the second officer-in-charge (OIC of the APN has been more than ‘enriching and fulfilling.’“We are a small family and thus take care of one another. Every single one of my boys are close to my heart, and during my time here I can tell without any doubt that seeing these men pick themselves up and push themselves to fight for their dreams has been a soul touching experience! To me every one of my boys is a winner.”
The node has also left an international mark as, while preparing on war-footing for the Olympics, the team performed exceptionally well at other international events like the World Para Athletics Grand Prix and the world Para Athletics Championships. This has brought the Olympic dream “well within reach”.
Currently, the top athletes are attached with the Army Sports Institute (ASI) for highly specialised training in their respective sports, guided by nutritionists, coaches, sports psychologists, and physiotherapists. They now have to clear the qualifying rounds scheduled next year for the Paralympics 2021.
Lt. Col Singh stressed on the need to spread awareness about Paralympic sports in the country, and has appealed to both—the serving fraternity and the veterans community. “Paralympic sports are not popular in India. Regular citizens and Faujis can help create awareness about Paralympic sports by giving them the same importance as any able-bodied sport, and also by actively highlighting the stellar achievements of countries' para-athletes and supporting them wholeheartedly in their journey.”
(This article was first published by this author on 'Mission Victory India' , knowledge partner of 'The Watchdog News')