Avani Lekhara, a Rifle shooter who won the gold medal for India at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in R-2 women’s 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Paralympic games.
From taking up shooting as a hobby to becoming the first Indian woman to win gold at the Paralympics, Avani is now ranked the world quantity 5 participant.
The 19-year-old from Jaipur topped the podium in the R-2 women’s 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 category in Tokyo and scripted history. She also proved the age-old adage “Where there is a will, there is a way”
Her final score was a world record-equalling total of 249.6, also a new Paralympic Games record.
She started seventh in the final but raced into the lead in the first elimination series and never looked back. China’s Cuiping Zhang and Ukrainian Iryna Schetnik finished in silver and bronze medal positions.
The lifetime of Avni, who gave proud moments to the nation, is stuffed with struggles.
Born on November 8, 2001 in Jaipur, Rajasthan, Avani had a near-fatal road accident in 2012, wherein her car got wrecked and had to be cut open to pull her out. She suffered severe injuries, including to her spinal cord, which led to partial paralysis and turned her into an introvert.
Her father, Praveen Lekhara, an engineering graduate from Jaipur’s Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT) who subsequently joined the Rajasthan Administrative Services, thought of sports as a way to cheer her up and took her to various sports grounds. Avani did not like archery but began enjoying shooting.
Avani Lekhara grew up idolizing shooter Abhinav Bindra. His 2011 autobiography acted as a major source of inspiration for her. Surprisingly, Bindra himself was one of the first to congratulate Lekhara when she won the gold medal.
Shashank Kaurani, the Secretary-General of the Rajasthan Rifle Association revealed that she was a girl who couldn’t get out of the car by herself. She had to be carried into the shooting range and was unable to pick up a gun.
Kaurani praised the determination with which Lekhara practiced all alone in the shooting range because it is not an easy task. He also appreciated her coach Chandra Shekhar for training her well.
Though the COVID-19 imposed lockdown led to a ban on all sports activities, the association made an exception for Lekhara.
However, Avani made the most of the lockdown at home. She installed an electronic target in her 3-BHK flat and practiced shooting from her kitchen hallway. Since there are several online training modules available for different sports, she made use of the opportunity. The gold medallist did online coaching, mental training, and physical sessions using her phone.
While the world has woken up to Avani’s talent after her gold medal feat at the Paralympics, she was already a known face in the shooting circles after winning two silver medals.
In March this year, Avani won second World Cup silver at the Al Ain 2021 World Shooting Para Sport World Cup. Incidentally, she finished 0.3 points behind Schetnik then.
Lekhara’s international achievements include 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 more recently a silver in the WSPS World Cup Al-Ain 2021. She broke the junior world record in 50m Rifle 3 Positions SH1 finals at the 2019 WSPS Championships, Australia.
Apart from shooting, the teen is pursuing a five-year degree course in law from the University of Rajasthan. She completed her schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya in Jaipur and was among the toppers of her school.
Since 2017, the central government has supported Lekhara by including her in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme and funding her training through the Annual Calendar for Training and Competition.