For a man who has single-handedly led the Indian para-badminton charge for long, the Dronacharya Award is a recognition of hard work and dedication, believes one of India’s most celebrated para-sports coach, Gaurav Khanna.
But for the 45-year-old, his initiation into the game was more about chance than choice.
A fine talent in the age-group circuit — he is a former U-22 doubles champion — Khanna was always keen on carrying his badminton career forward. But lack of support from family meant Khanna was forced to look for an alternative career.
After joining the Railway Protection Force (RPF) as an officer, Gaurav Khanna barely got a chance to play badminton at a competitive level.
But things soon changed when he was posted at the Hathras Junction railway station on the Kanpur-Delhi section of the Indian railways.
“I think that was the turning point of my career,” Khanna told Hindustan Times in an interview.
“Had they (family) not stopped me playing, I would not have become an inspector with the RPF and perhaps would not have got the chance to meet the specially-abled street kids playing badminton around Hathras station.”
Coming across deaf kids trying their hand at badminton, the RPF inspector took it upon himself to help the shuttlers with some basic training of the game.
“I think this generated extra interest in me towards coaching the specially-abled shuttlers,” he said.
This foray into coaching also saw him come in contact with officials at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) who later appointed him as the coach of the Indian deaf badminton team, a moment Khanna considers to have changed his life.
The coming years saw Gaurav Khanna being named the coach of the Asian deaf badminton team too for a continental match against Europe in 2012.
Over the years, Khanna has been a prominent figure in the Indian para-badminton circuit.
Having produced champion shuttlers like Pramod Bahgat, Parul Parmer and Manoj Kumar, and having been credited for helping his athletes win over 300 medals at the international stage, Khanna believes it’s his habit of looking at the positives that have helped him all these years.
“I keep enjoying the company of my para-shuttlers and their own behaviour keeps me inspiring to continue my hard work,” Khanna said.
“Everyone has his or her story and whenever I meet someone with any kind of disability, I try to know their story. The tragedy could happen to anyone. So we should not think of ourselves as very powerful just because we have every organ intact.”
Khanna is among the 13 coaches who will be honoured with the Dronacharya Award this year at a special function at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on August 29.