Home Para shooter Mona Agarwal turns adversity into her biggest strength

    Para shooter Mona Agarwal turns adversity into her biggest strength

    By Robin Bose
    Mona Agarwal - indianshooting.com

    Like many at the time of birth, Mona Agarwal was an “unwanted girl child.” Now, the 37-year-old has beaten the odds in a way that she will drive India’s push for gold in rifle shooting at the Paris Paralympics this August-September.

    Mona secured an Olympic quota for the country in women’s 10m air rifle SH1 category at the Para Shooting World Cup in New Delhi earlier this month, and is certain to make the trip to Paris should her form hold.

    With gold in 10m air rifle and silver in the 10m air rifle mixed team in only her fourth international outing so far, Mona is an example of what determination can achieve.

    Mona poses with her medals won at the recent World Cup in New Delhi.

    Early phase

    If life can be termed cruel, we need to look no further than Mona’s journey. Born in a conservative family in Sikar, Rajasthan, Mona wasn’t welcomed on arrival simply because the family wanted a boy after Mona’s two elder sisters.

    If the stigma of being a girl child wasn’t enough, Mona was struck by polio at a very early age, which left her on the wheelchair.

    In adversity lay Mona’s opportunity. She terms her early life as preparation for the obstacles that lay ahead, and in maternal grandmother Geeta Devi, she found a mentor who “had a premonition of what life had in store” for Mona. “I was taught that nothing was impossible, just that had to put the mind into the task,” says Mona.

    Of course, being wheelchair bound, the hurdles had to be tackled differently. “I may not be able to accomplish something like a normal person, but I will do it nonetheless,” she says.

    Reminded at every step that women were lesser citizens, Mona could not complete her education, but that was hardly a dampener for her and the spirit to break free and be an achiever.

    Steeled by Geeta Devi’s life lessons, Mona left home amid threats from the family elders that she wouldn’t be allowed back.

    She found her calling in para sports, and it was the determination to make a mark that saw her excel in javelin, shot put, discus and powerlifting. Had the body not revolted to the strain of lifting weights and a diet that was “destroying” her body, Mona’s destiny could have been different.

    Listening to her body, Mona moved away from powerlifting, and began searching for another sport.

    Start of a new chapter

    Mona’s quest began in mid-2021, and it wasn’t easy. Like in other parts of the country, Jaipur, her base after marriage, was still under some restrictions after the second phase of lockdown. Situated 500 metres from her home in Jothwar, the Eklavya Sports Shooting Academy helped her decide, and rifle shooting it was.

    Mona with her coach Yogesh Shekhawat.

    Mona had made her choice but the road was uphill, given the expenses involved in pursuing the sport. Coach Yogesh Shekhawat did his bit by waiving his fee, but Mona still had to figure out the finances to fund her shooting gear, rifle and competition fees.

    It has been all about striking a balance as with two young children, son Avik, 3, daughter Aarvi, 5, at home and para-athlete husband Ravindra Chaudhary fighting hard to emerge from an accident, Mona has had to optimize to her time and resources to ensure her home and passion don’t get derailed.

    Her job at the government secretariat in Jaipur is a help, but when one takes into account that from December 2021, when she started training, to date, Mona has spent around Rs 28 lakh on the sport that now defines her, the challenge is apparent. Couple this with her husband’s ongoing treatment, we can’t but be in awe of her iron will.

    Mona gives credit to the superb support system at home that has freed her mind to an extent. “My in-laws have ensured that my practice isn’t hampered as they share the responsibilities at home. Though young, my children understand the situation and tell me, ‘don’t worry mama, you come back with a medal” she says.

    Mona with her two children, son Avik and daughter Aarvi.

    Rapid strides

    Mona’s determination to beat the odds and her family’s hopes have combined to fuel her rapid strides. Since her first international exposure at the World Cup in Osijek, Croatia in July last, Mona has steadily but surely got better.

    From bronze in the 10m air rifle mixed team in Croatia, Mona has matured in a way that she challenged for a Paris Olympic quota spot at the World Championship in Lima, Peru, and the Para Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, last year.

    She missed out narrowly, but those close shaves worked in a way that when Mona took aim at the Karni Singh Shooting Range in March at the New Delhi World Cup, the intent was clear.

    “After Lima and Hangzhou, I was under a lot of pressure,” admits Mona, and she did her confidence a world of good by shooting 618.0 in qualification to finish seventh and qualify for the final.

    She was unaware of the quota spot till officials informed her that those ahead in qualification had already secured a berth.

    “It was as if the pressure got washed away in a flash, and it reflected in my performance thereafter,” says Mona, referring to the individual gold and team silver thereafter.

    Road ahead

    Paris in sight, the roadmap is chalked out. Mona will be training out of Delhi and Jaipur, and in the interim will be the only Indian rifle shooter at the World Cup in Changwon, Korea.

    Mona hopes the training and trip to Korea will prepare her in a way that when the Olympic camp commences at the Karni Singh Shooting Range in July, a medal at Paris is what will drive her.