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“My father was my biggest supporter and sports is my greatest motivator”

When Sandeep Kumar (38) from Patna was a child he told his father Akhilesh Mishra that he wished to see a cricket match. Mishra took his little boy on his cycle to the Moin-ul-Haq stadium where a match was in progress. “Please allow my son to catch a glimpse,” he pleaded with the security guards, and they agreed. He hoisted Sandeep on his shoulders. “It was my first view of a cricket stadium. The green grass, the blue sky above… I thought, this is heaven,” he says, reviving one of his fondest memories. But it’s a bittersweet memory, for his dad is no more: he died on Diwali last year in a bike accident.
Sandeep, who was born with a club foot (his right heel is turned inward), loved playing cricket with his friends but wouldn’t have dreamt of becoming a professional cricketer. However, he did get into sports and become a national-level gymnast! The eldest son of Akhilesh Mishra, a kerosene trader, and Sarvani Devi, a homemaker, Sandeep has a brother, Pradeep, and a sister, Anjali. “My family is my strength,” he says. “They never made me feel any less because of my disability. My dad was my greatest supporter. In fact he bought me a football and encouraged me to kick it with my right foot.”
When Sandeep was in tenth standard, he used to accompany Pradeep to his gymnastics club. The coach Surender Kumar Vishwakarma noticed Sandeep and encouraged him to try out the sport. “Initially I was not sure, but the coach recognised my talent and trusted me,” he recalls. “It was the faith he had in me that transformed me into what I am today.” Anjali joined her older brothers in practising gymnastics; however, both she and Pradeep branched out into other fields. Anjali is a Mumbai-based actress: she has played minor roles in Hindi and Bhojpuri serials and movies. Dance became Pradeep’s passion; he is a dancer and choreographer who works at Dubai’s Bollywood Park and has participated in the reality shows Dance India Dance (Hindi) and Nach Nachaiya (Bhojpuri).
Sandeep, who cleared the NET exam and did his M.A. in Geography, stuck firmly to gymnastics. He took part in the 2015 Special Olympics and was also part of the India team in 2023, when we won a record 111 medals. He is not just aiming for personal glory, though. Helping others with disabilities is one of his key goals. He runs his own sports academy called Academy of Gymnastics, where he trains persons with and without disabilities, and also children with intellectual and developmental disabilities like autism. He recalls when he first encountered children with disabilities at a sporting event. “Initially I was intrigued – how will they manage? But the more I witnessed them on the field the more I was spellbound. At our academy we use sports to try and mainstream these children. If we identify exceptionally talented kids we train them for international competitions as well.”
Sandeep dons many ‘official’ hats: besides being Secretary of the Paralympic Committee of Bihar, Sports Director of Special Olympics Bharat and Area Director of Special Olympics Bihar, he is the National Sports Director of the Indian Sports Federation for Cerebral Palsy, and Sports Director of the Wheelchair Rugby Federation of India. He explains that wheelchair rugby players are usually those who have sustained spinal cord injuries following accidents. Many of them suffer from depression and are prone to suicidal thoughts. Sport is a way to make them more confident and give them a new purpose in life.
Sandeep has a packed daily schedule. At 4 a.m. he leaves home for his academy which is 20 km away. After training, which starts at 5 a.m., he retires to a nearby room that he has rented, freshens up, and heads to the Paralympic Committee office where he works till 4 p.m. Then he’s back at the academy to train, and returns home by 9 p.m. In his leisure hours he enjoys trekking, preferring to go to ‘untouched’ places that are less frequented by others, such as the Chaurasan Temple and the Rohtasgarh Fort, where he finds “great peace”. His favourite is the Kaimur range in Bihar.
“The special children in my academy have given me a new meaning and purpose,” Sandeep says. “I am their friend, guide, coach and trainer and through them I learn something new every day.”


Vicky Roy