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How paracanoe athlete Prachi Yadav defeated the odds to win

Para athlete Prachi Yadav won a gold and a silver medal at the 2023 Para Asian Games and received the Arjuna Award this year

Prachi Yadav won gold and a silver at the Para Asian Games in Hangzhou in 2023.

By Shail Desai

LAST PUBLISHED 02.03.2024  |  08:00 AM IST

In early January, there was a different kind of reward in store for paracanoe athlete Prachi Yadav, towards the end of another demanding day of training in Bhopal. An official from her club, the Madhya Pradesh Water Sports Academy, shouted out news that Yadav had been selected to receive the Arjuna Award.

The buzz was heady, but Yadav put her mind to wrapping up the daily routine. Only once she was out of her canoe, did she sit easy and let it all soak in. There was a time when life in sport was not a goal. But here she was, gaining recognition after working her way up to become among the finest para athletes in the country. This was reward for her tireless efforts and the rapid progress that she’s made since taking to the sport just five years ago.


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“I had tears of joy, I was ecstatic. We had a little celebration at the club—bright lanterns and nice food for all the kids. It feels good to be rewarded for your hard work and I wanted to share it with everyone," Yadav, 28, says.

During her Paralympic Games debut in Tokyo in 2021, Yadav finished fourth in the heats and eighth after the final. The result may seem underwhelming on paper, but it was great encouragement for Yadav during that period of her career.

“It was a big deal to just go to the Paralympics at the time. And making the final was an even bigger achievement, simply because my preparation was not good enough. So I was certainly not disappointed with what I came home with," she says.

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At the time, Yadav’s family would hand her 15,000 for monthly expenses. She made the most of it to rent out a place and run a home, besides taking care of training related requirements. The access to shared gear was another test in patience at her previous club, where she often had to wait a while for her turn to arrive.

However, the result at the Paralympics Games brought recognition and gave her the opportunity to work on her skills. She was included as part of the Target Olympics Podium Scheme and found sponsors, as well as support from Olympic Gold Quest.

It didn’t take long for Yadav to hit the headlines. In May 2022, she won bronze at the canoeing World Cup, which was monumental because she was the first Indian athlete—in any category—to pick up a medal at the event. The following year, she bagged six major medals in all. But her most significant performance came off the podium in August 2023, when she placed fourth at the ICF Sprint and Para Canoe World Championship. This helped her book a place in the Paris Paralympics, to be held later this year. She ended the year with a gold and a silver at the Para Asian Games in Hangzhou.


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Prachi Yadav receives the Arjuna Ward from President Droupadi Murmu. (PTI)

“I was also able to work with an experienced coach, Aleksandr Dyadchuk, before the Asian Games last year. Physical training is also an integral part of the sessions now, a lot of work on the rowing ergometer for instance. I have also understood dietary needs and the use of supplements for a professional athlete. The Sports Authority of India helped me out with personal equipment and I now have to just come to the club, pick up my gear and start training," she says.

Her biggest source of support is her husband, Manish Kaurav, also a paracanoe athlete, who has been in the sport for over a decade. He first started helping Yadav with training at her previous club, before they decided to get married during the lockdown in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“He’s played a major role in my progress over all these years. We are in the same discipline, train on the same water and look to get better each day. It makes life a lot simpler when you have the same goals, though we like to leave sports behind more often when we head home. I use a wheelchair, so we don’t go out regularly. But there’s movies and music that we enjoy together. That said, we get so involved with what we do as athletes that we’ve still not found the time to celebrate our wedding," she says.

Before Yadav began paracanoeing, she had started out swimming in Gwalior as a young girl, in spite of being in ill health quite often. Though she won medals at the national level, she admits her legs never quite worked very well in the water, cutting short her dreams of international participation. But her arms were simply a work in progress and when paracanoeing emerged as an option, Yadav was just the right fit for it.

“Since I first took to this sport, my focus has always been a Paralympic medal. And with five months to go, everything that I’m doing these days is with this one goal in mind," she says.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.

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