Paralympian Mariyappan Thangavelu's Golden Leap From Poverty

Mariyappan Thangavelu was just five years old when he suffered permanent disability after an accident.


Twenty two year old Indian Paralympic high jump gold medal winner Mariyappan Thangavelu comes from a very humble background in Tamil Nadu’s Salem district.

His single mother Saroja is a vegetable seller who earns just around hundred rupees a day. “We were so happy to watch him on TV, winning gold. He is such a quiet boy who is warm with everyone.” Earlier, the mother used to be a daily labourer carrying bricks. When she suffered a major chest problem “it was Mariyappan who borrowed Rs 500 from someone and asked me to sell vegetable”, Saroja adds.

Mariyappan finished his BBA from AVS college of Arts and Science where the Physical Education Director spotted talent and nurtured him. He was also part of “Do or Die Club” that motivated him. “Later, Bengaluru-based Sathya Narayana trained him for two years in the city, offering him a ten thousand rupee stipend as well” said his brother T Kumar.

The Olympian suffered disability on a leg when he was just five after he was run over by a government bus near his school. But that did not stop him from leaping high. After a seventeen year legal battle, the family received a compensation of Rs. 2 lakh. She deposited a lakh for his future after paying a lakh for legal expenses.

Mariyappan has three brothers and a sister who is married. Older brother T Kumar dropped out of bachelor’s degree in physical education due to poverty. Another did not pursue studies beyond school. The youngest brother is in class twelve now. Their sister is married. “If there’s help I can send my boys to college” says the mother.

The single mother faced a lot of stigma after her husband allegedly abandoned the family. For a long time, none was willing to rent the family a house. Even now they live in a small house paying five hundred rupees as rent.

Following her son’s gold medal win in Rio, Saroja’s prayers may have already been answered. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Saturday announced a Rs. 2 crore cash prize for Mariyappan. In her message, she said, “You have leapt into history and have made the nation and Tamil Nadu proud. Your achievement will inspire more children and youth to overcome adversities and strive for greater achievements.”

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