Monday, October 28, 2013

Standing Tall

Joby Mathew, who is 3'5” tall, won five gold medals at the World Dwarf Games recently. In total, he has won 16 international medals

Photo by Mithun Vinod 

By Shevlin Sebastian

I will always be grateful to 'The New Indian Express',” says Joby Mathew, the dwarf world champion. An article on Joby was published in the newspaper, in 2005, with a request for sponsorship, along with the sportsman’s phone number. Joby wanted to take part in the world arm wrestling championships held at Utsunomiya, Japan.

Many people called to provide support, but only one person offered concrete help. And that turned out to be the Tamil actor Sharath Kumar.

I found it difficult to believe that a superstar like Sharath Sir would call an ordinary person like me,” says Joby. Eventually, when Sharath came to Kochi for the shoot of the film, 'Khaki', they met, and the actor provided the Rs 1 lakh that was needed.

When Joby landed at Kuala Lumpur airport, on route to Tokyo, he went across the terminal to get his connecting flight. But when Joby walks, it is like a jump, and he uses his muscular left hand as a pivot. Joby, who has a height of 3’ 5”, was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency. That means his feet are tiny while his upper body is like a normal adult’s. In fact, he has only four toes on either feet.  

Soon, he was followed by a group of two women and a man, pushing a wheelchair. Thinking that it was an emergency, he stepped to one side, so that they could go past. But they also stopped. When Joby started walking again, they followed him. Then one woman said, “Please get onto the wheelchair.”

Joby replied that he did not need one. Despite saying this, when he began walking again, they followed him. So, to mollify them, he got onto the wheelchair.

But at the world championships, Joby showed that he was not disabled at all. He won three bronze medals in the normal as well as the differently-abled category. Thereafter, till 2012, he won 11 gold, silver and bronze medals in world championships held in Spain and Egypt, including a silver at a paralympic badminton tournament in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2010.

Joby burst into the limelight recently when he won an unprecedented five golds – shot put, javelin, discus, and singles and doubles badminton – at the World Dwarf Games held at Michigan State University in August.

To achieve this extraordinary feat, Joby had been training non-stop for four years. Every morning, from his home in Aluva, 26 kms from Kochi, he goes to swim in the nearby Periyar River for 45 minutes. Interestingly, he can only use his upper body to swim, since there is no movement in his legs.  

Thereafter, I go to a nearby gym to train under K.V. Chitrangathan, a former Mr. Kerala,” says Joby, who also practises the shot-put, javelin and discus. Once a month, Joby will drive down to Bangalore in his specially-made Santro to get training from Ramesh Tikaram, a winner of the Arjuna Award for athletics and badminton. “Joby is determined, focused, and naturally talented,” says Ramesh. “What I like about him is his willingness to accept and correct his mistakes.”

Apart from all this, Joby holds a regular job. “During the day, I work in the legal wing of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd [BPCL],” says Joby, who has a MA, as well as a law degree. “It is the BPCL which has been sponsoring my participation in all international tournaments since 2008.”

And on the personal front, he is also happy. In 2007, he met the Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam dancer, as well as research scholar, Megha Pillai, who is 5’5”, at a seminar. Within months, they became friends. “I proposed to Megha and she accepted, although she is a Hindu, while I am a Christian,” says Joby. The couple tied the knot on November 16, 2008. Today, they are parents to four-year-old Jyothis.  

When asked the secret of success, Joby says, “We should understand and accept our strengths and weaknesses. That can only happen if we love ourselves. I told myself, ‘I don’t have legs, but I do have hands and can make use of that!’ However, to achieve anything, you also need the help of God.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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