Vibhas Sen – Polio Couldn’t Stop This National Wheelchair Fencing Champion From Making His Country Proud
Despite severe disparity in available facilities, Indian Paralympic players bring as much pride to the nation as their Olympics counterparts do. Vibhas Sen from Mumbai is one such wheelchair fencing champion. In a conversation with The Tribal Box, he opens up about his struggles and achievements.
"I had polio since the age of three months. And yet, I was never made to feel like I was differently-abled. My parents, or my friends, treated me no differently. And I am thankful to all of them for having treated me as an equal.”
Inaccessibility and Mental Reservations
If there was one area where Vibhas Sen did not feel like an equal, it was sports. “One area where I always felt left out was sports,” Vibhas said. “A lot of places were, and still are, inaccessible to people with disabilities. There is also the problem of finding groups or coaches who will give differently-abled teammates like me a chance. I wanted to try swimming ever since I was 10 years of age. But because of the aforesaid problems, could not do so."
The Years of Swimming
Many years later, he was watching Paralympics 2012 when his dream resurfaced. He once again thought he could still get into swimming. Back then, he was employed with an ad agency and working round the clock. “Life had become quite monotonous,” he recalls. “So, while watching the Paralympics, the thought of taking up sports resurfaced; a thought that I had to suppress since childhood. I called a few acquaintances of mine and got the number of the president of the Maharashtra Paralympic Swimming Association, Mr. Rajaram Ghag. He referred me to a coach. I was thrilled I finally had a coach. Now, I only needed to put myself through the training wholeheartedly. Soon I had qualified for the state championship in Pune. Six months later I won my first silver at the state-level championship. Twelve months later I secured gold at the nationals in Chennai in 2012.”
World Stage in Fencing
Due to age and other factors, Vibhas soon switched to fencing. In 2014, he started training aggressively under his coach. His hard work soon paved the way for a silver at the state championship and a gold at the nationals in 2014. “Since it was my first major tournament, every one took notice of me when I won the gold medal,” he said. “The secretary of the Fencing Association suggested to me that I go for international level sports to hone my skills even further.”
Vibhas’s first championship abroad, the International Wheelchair Fencing Grand Prix, was in Hong Kong in December of 2014. “It was a very proud moment for me as I was sharing the stage with other Paralympic champions from the world, whom I had until then only watched on television. I experienced an adrenaline rush and so much excitement that I decided that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life”.
Soon, seeing the expertise and technical knowledge of foreign coaches, he started contacting them for training. As a stroke of luck and display of goodwill, the Poland team invited him to their 45-day training camp in August 2015. The next tournament took him to Budapest in September 2015.
Since then, he has played in the Asian Championship (2016) and World championship in Rome (2017). His ranking kept improving and he is currently world ranking number 32. A four-time national champion, Vibhas has won seven gold, four silver, and two bronze medals at the state and national level.
Encouraging Young Folks All Around
On asking what advise he would like to share with the young generation of today, he says, “One has to be adaptive to change and willing to fight against any kind of discrimination. More than anything, it has to be about your will power and hard work”.
Today, he is often invited to inaugurate day events, sports days in schools, and other functions. On his growing popularity, he says, “Sports has given me a new platform where I can talk about the wonderful abilities of the disabled people to the world. I had never expected that I will reach here. But today when I speak, people listen and take note of me. And I want more and more people to learn to not discriminate others on the basis of their abilities or disabilities and give differently-abled players equal support”.