In the picturesque village of Loidhar in Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir, a young girl named Sheetal Devi has become a beacon of hope and inspiration.
At just 16 years old, Sheetal has achieved what many might have thought impossible.
Recognized by sports body World Archery as the "first female archer without arms to compete internationally," Sheetal's journey is a testament to the indomitable human spirit.
Early Life and Challenges
Born with Phocomelia, a rare congenital disorder resulting in under-developed limbs, Sheetal's early life was marked by challenges. The simple act of lifting a bow was a struggle.
However, with unwavering determination and months of dedicated practice, she mastered the art of archery.
Despite her physical limitations, Sheetal's spirit remained unbroken, thanks in large part to the unwavering belief and support of her parents and friends from her village.
Yet, she often faced judgmental expressions from those who discovered her lack of arms.
"These medals prove that I am special. These medals are not just mine, but of the whole country,” Sheetal proudly proclaimed.
Achievements on the International Stage
Sheetal's prowess in archery was showcased at the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou, where she clinched three medals.
After securing a silver in the women's doubles compound, she went on to win two gold medals in mixed doubles and women's individual events.
Her winning streak continued as she defeated Alim Nur Syahidah of Singapore in the women's compound event, taking home another gold.
Additionally, at Hangzhou, Sheetal partnered with Sarita to win a silver medal in the women's team event and teamed up with Rakesh Kumar to clinch gold in the mixed team event.
Her remarkable journey from a school-going girl to an international medallist began in 2021 when she participated in a youth event organized by the Indian Army in Kishtwar.
Capturing the attention of scouts, efforts were made to provide her with a prosthetic arm. However, the prosthetic did not fit properly, seemingly marking the end of her sporting aspirations.
But with the intervention of sports physiotherapist Shrikant Iyenger and the support of the Major Akshay Girish Memorial Trust and Being You, Sheetal found her calling in archery.
Training and Dedication
Sheetal's training at the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Sports Complex in Katra was unique.
Coaches Abhilasha Chaudhary and Kuldeep Vedwan, inspired by Matt Stutzman, a silver medallist from the 2012 London Paralympics, devised innovative techniques to train Sheetal.
From modifying a locally-made releaser to improvising a string mechanism for her chin and mouth, the coaches ensured Sheetal could release arrows with precision.
Starting with 50-100 arrows a day, Sheetal's dedication saw her shooting up to 300 arrows daily.
Her hard work bore fruit when she won a silver medal at the Para Open Nationals in Sonepat. Impressively, she also finished fourth when competing against able-bodied archers at the Open Nationals.
Behind her achievements lies a touching personal story. Sheetal's parents, working tirelessly on a rice and vegetable farm and tending to goats, have always been her pillars of strength.
"Whatever my father earns is spent on the family; we hardly have any savings,” Sheetal shared, highlighting her determination to make a name for herself and support her family.
A Historic Feat
Earlier this year, Sheetal made history at the World Para Archery Championships in Pilsen, Czech Republic. Although she narrowly lost to Oznur Cure of Turkey in the final, she proudly brought home a silver medal, further cementing her status as a trailblazer in the world of sports.
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