“I strongly believe that sport helps people move out of their comfort zone and do something different.” In conversation with Shiva Prasad and Deve Gowda from Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy.

Tell us your story from the beginning – how did it start?

Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy is supported by Shiva Prasad, Deve Gowda, Vijay, Dilip Gowda, Shyam Karthi, Neelanjenaiah, Madhusudan and Sarvantarami. In this interview, the YPS team met with Shiva Prasad and Deve Gowda.

According to Shiva: When I was young, I used to play gully cricket with the kids in our locality. I used to captain my team as well. Sports is something that has always been in me. And I strongly believe that sport helps people move out of their comfort zone and do something different. It induces a competitive spirit in you. Being physically disabled due to polio, Deve Gowda and I realized early that we needed to be physically active to increase our life expectancy. Usually, after the age of 45 the muscles are going to worsen unless one is physically fit. But being active physically is likely to keep you going even at the age of 65. With this in mind, we forayed into sports at an early age.

I have been playing tennis for the last three years. At a sports event, I happened to meet Mr. T. Seetharam, the General Secretary of the Paralympic Wheelchair Tennis Federation of India. Mr. Seetharam appreciated my fitness and suggested that I take up tennis.

“As we grew up, we realized that over 2% of our population is physically challenged but we have less that 2% representation in sports across the country. We want this 2% to increase.”

I have now participated in several national as well as international tournaments for wheelchair tennis. In 2013 and 2015, I was one of the finalists at the nationals organized by the Rotary Club of Madras Industrial City (RCMIC).

Thanks to donations and a sponsorship from my company, I managed to participate in the Bangkok Open. I don’t have a coach at present, but I pick up tips and techniques watching the world wheelchair tennis champions. I was recently moved up to the fifth position in the national ranking for wheelchair tennis players.

I faced many challenges when I started playing professionally. Securing financial support to meet training and travelling expenses has been one of the biggest issues I have had to deal with right from the start. The government only provides 30,000 INR as sponsorship (which is a refund of your air travel). What this means is, the athlete instead of practicing is trying to organize funds for his participation through sponsorship. I have been fairly fortunate as my current organization, and a few well-wishers, have come forward to help me through this journey. But all other para-athletes or sports persons aren’t that fortunate.

“Our aim is to nurture more superheroes.”

One day, we were discussing the same issue during our break, and the Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy was conceptualized and created over a cup a coffee. Our usual routine over a weekend is to practice hard from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm. All of us who practice, go to Konark (a coffee shop) in Kanteerava stadium for a coffee during the breaks. Konark has a very special place in our hearts.

The name for the sports academy needs to be credited to our Prime Minister – Mr. Modi. In December 2015, in his monthly radio talk, Prime Minister Modi, appealed to people to use the word ‘divyaang’ instead of ‘viklaang’ while referring to a person with physical disabilities. It’s also a term we associate with, when we want to create super humans. For example, one of our members met with an accident a few years back and lost both his legs. He later went on to complete his graduation and is also the youngest player to represent India. He is indeed a role model or super hero who has been able to achieve what some people may have thought to be impossible for a person with a disability.

Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy (DMSA) is founded by para- athletes to address the issues and challenges faced by an athlete while representing India. We have been in operation for over a year.

The purpose of Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy (DMSA) is to encourage differently-abled persons to take-up sports at a young age and help qualified para-athletes achieve their goals by providing them with training, specialized coaches, infrastructure, and sports equipment. We also help them get financial support to participate in international events and eventually, the Paralympics. The ultimate goal is to help them represent India in an international events and bring glory to the nation.

We are determined to work towards providing beginner, intermediate and advanced level training in Wheelchair tennis, Wheelchair basketball, para-cycling, and Para-badminton.

Tell me, what have your successes been along the way?

When we started Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy, it was just us (Dev and myself). We realized that we will need more members if we want to create an impact. Over the 11 months, we have added over 13 members who are all physically challenged and now actively participate in the academy’s charter.

Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy is looking to host the states’ first inter-state wheelchair cricket tournament on April 29 and 30 in Bangalore at the St. John’s cricket ground.

Wheelchair cricket is played widely in the northern part of India especially in UP. Apart from UP, Maharashtra, West Bengal (Kolkata), Punjab, Delhi and Tamil Nadu also have active teams. It is the first time we are doing it in Karnataka. This will also be the first tournament of its kind to be held in South India.

Why cricket and not any other sport? We want everyone to understand wheelchair cricket and give impetus to the game. We hope our initiative will popularize wheelchair cricket across India.

People simply love cricket in our country. Every Indian is likely to bat, ball, and field irrespective of their disability.

“We are organizing the first inter-state wheelchair cricket tournament on April 29 and 30, in Bangalore.”

The aim is to raise 4,00,000 INR. We have already received over a 1,00,000 INR funding, and are looking for sponsors and volunteers who can help us with this tournament.

The invites for participation were distributed through formal and informal channels. The informal channels include Facebook posts, media articles and a 30-minute program on “Suddhi News”, which was later posted to YouTube, helping us get maximum visibility. This helped us form the Karnataka team. Three states, UP, Tamil Nadu and Delhi have given their confirmation to participate in the event. We have gotten calls from Kerala, and Jammu & Kashmir, among other states. We have sent more invites, but even three teams would be great to start with.

Organizing the tournament is only a part of the change, but getting people who are physically challenged or disabled onto the field – I think that’s the real change we are striving for. For example, a person may have loved playing cricket, but may have given up on the game after an accident – we want such people back on the field. In fact, we’ve already received calls from a few such people who are now interested in participating in this tournament.

After the cricket tournament, we are looking to set-up a gym in Bangalore for the differently-abled. It’s going to be the first of its kind in the city. We are looking for volunteers and more academy members to help us with this project as well.

“We are sports persons, and we support every sport in which our country participates. It feels very nice (to see them play). Everybody has the right to play whatever sport they want to play, whatever condition they may be in.”

What are your plans for the future?

Basically, we are looking to commercialize para-sports in India. Once we are able to establish Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy further, we are looking to provide a monthly stipend to the sportspersons, which will help them in their training. We’re also looking to set up a fund that allows sportspersons to practice without having to worry about how they can raise funds for their participation tournaments.

We’re also, looking to introduce health insurance for these players. This is completely new and not offered by anyone at the moment.

In the future, we want expand the current platform and create a mega event that can have over 10 cricket teams who can participate. I am going to be traveling across the country to speak to the team captains about the stipend, medical/health insurance and also the larger plan for cricket teams across states.

In addition, we are also looking at sponsorships from corporates who could adopt these teams across different states and move into a franchise model.

Divyaang Myithri Sports Academy is also planning to set up a 10-day training program in Association with the Tennis governing body, to introduce and provide basic training on Wheelchair Tennis to amateurs who may be interested in taking up the sport.

The aim of the training camp is to identify interested players from different parts of India or Karnataka, provide training and assign them a specialized wheelchair tennis coach. The camp would be held in Bangalore. The dates of this camp will be announced shortly.

If someone wants partner with you, how can they do so?

We would like to sponsor any para-sportsperson who has the dedication and talent to win us medals. In addition, we are also looking to tie up with corporates, be a part of their CSR or sustainability initiatives. This will help create a fund that can transform or have an impact on many lives.

We’re also looking for volunteers to help us with our various initiative. One can reach us through the contact form on our website (https://www.divyaangmyithri.com/) or write to info@yourphilanthropystory.com.