New Delhi, Feb. 8 -- There were curious glances at the group of youngsters. From the joyous shouts of Chak de India to the sudden media spotlight, passersby were intrigued. Coming nearer, the glint of the medals made them realise how precious they were for the athletes flaunting them. For the first time, India returned from the Special Olympics World Winter Games with a rich haul of 46 medals. A country which finds it difficult to produce medals in the Summer Olympics, finds itself richer thanks to the exploits of its 'special' athletes in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"My son could only eat rice and salt because he wasn't used to the food in that country," the proud mother of a medal winner was overheard telling a friend.
Take Bharat Bhatia for instance. Raised by a single mother, the Delhi boy stays in the hostel of a Jaipur school.
The gold medallist in snowshoeing (50m race) suffers from speech impairment.
"He had fits before the preparatory camp in Himachal Pradesh. Yet, he overcame the obstacle," said teary-eyed mother, Kanchan. Her concern is what will happen to her son if she's not around?
"It's very important for the government to step up, to help them become independent," she adds.
Another Delhi lad, Krishna Gosain, got a bronze in figure skating. "For the first time, my son brought me a present," said happy mother Varsha.
In the crowd, a lanky girl caught the eye. With two gold medals, 12-year-old Anishka Upadhyay was the star of the Indian contingent.
The teen from Lucknow won the top prize in Alpine glide and 10m walk. "Bahut khushi hui," said Anishka.
"Every day is a new beginning for special athletes. We have to repeat how they have to train and also guide them during competition," says Virendra, the Delhi area director of Special Olympics Bharat. "Not only do we have national camps for athletes, but also for the coaches who are all volunteers."
The Special Olympics motto says "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt". For the South Korea-returned athletes, the saying holds true.
After all, the joy in being able to represent the country was enough to bring out the best in them.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.