20-year-old para shooter Avani Lekhara, who etched her name in the history books becoming India’s first women para-athlete to claim a gold medal at the Paralympic Games, with no less than a world record-equaling effort in Women’s 10m Air Rifle at the Tokyo Games last year, is among the 107 recipients to be awarded the Padma Shri. Lekhara was also among 12 sportspersons who were honoured with the Khel Ratna at the National Sports Awards 2021 for her exploits at the Tokyo Games.
Inspired to take up the sport of shooting after reading Indian Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra’s autobiography ‘A Shot At History: My Obsessive Journey to Olympic Gold’, teenager Lekhara has been wheelchair-bound since a road accident in 2012. Her father encouraged her to get involved in a sport, and she initially tried both shooting and archery. She found she enjoyed shooting more, and was also inspired by Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra after reading his book.
She also won a bronze in the 50m Rifle Three Positions Standing SH 1 event at the Tokyo Games, becoming the first Indian female to win two medals in Games’ history. She has won many World Cup medals since 2017 including a Silver with a Junior World Record in R2 at the WSPS World Cup 2017, bronze at the WSPS World Cup Bangkok 2017, silver in the WSPS World Cup in Osijek, Croatia 2019 and silver in the WSPS World Cup Al-Ain 2021. She won the Tokyo Paralympics quota in February 2019 in the UAE. Since 2017, Government has supported Avani by including her in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) besides funding her training through the Annual Calendar for Training and Competition (ACTC). Thanks to such support, she has competed in 12 international competitions, attended National Coaching Camps with sports science support along with a sports kit. She also got financial assistance to install a computerized digital target at home, Air Rifle, ammunition, and accessories.
In December last year, Lekhara won the “Best Female Debut” honour at the 2021 Paralympic Awards for her record-breaking gold medal at the Tokyo Games. Recalling her experience of her maiden Paralympic Games, Avani said she approach the competition, one shot at a time. “It was a dream come true for me at that time. When I came back to India, I met a lot of people. I went back to my school and kids there came to me and said they are inspired by me and also want to take up the sport. It is amazing but with success comes a lot of responsibility,” she added.
India won an unprecedented 19 medals at the Paralympic Games including five gold, eight silver and six bronze.
Avani Lekhara Profile
Date of Birth: 8th November 2001
Native: Jaipur, Rajasthan
Sports: Para Shooting
Events: Women’s 10m Air Rifle SH1, Mixed 10m air Rifle Prone SH1, Mixed 50m Rifle Prone SH1,Women’s 50m 3 Position
Training Base: JDA Shooting Range Jaipur and home Range
Personal Coach: Shuma Shirur
National Coach: Subhash Rana
International debut: 2017 at the World Cup at Al Ain, UAE
World Rank 5 in R2 and 6 in R8
Silver Medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup AIA in 2021
Silver Medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup in Osijek, Croatia 2019
Silver Medal with Junior World Record in R2 in the WSPS World Cup AIA in 2017
Bronze Medal in R2 at the WSPS World Cup Bangkok 2017
(With Agency inputs)