Aruna Tanwar was among eight athletes given bipartite commission invitation for Tokyo by World Taekwondo and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC)

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By Shalini Gupta

UPDATED ON JUN 10, 2021 08:41 PM IST

Anxiety gripped Aruna Tanwar and it was followed by waves of disappointment when a travel ban made her and other para taekwondoin from India miss last month’s qualifiers for the Paralympic Games in Jordan. There was no way she was going to Tokyo now, she thought.

“I was so upset and disheartened to lose out on a chance. My dream of wearing the India jersey during Paralympics 2021 came crumbling down. I was urging celebrities like (actor) Sonu Sood through friends on social media to bring the issue to the forefront,’ said Tanwar, speaking from her village.

On Wednesday, delight replaced disappointment. Tanwar was among eight athletes given bipartite commission invitation for Tokyo by World Taekwondo and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Such an invitation is given by the IPC in consultation with the sport’s world body for athletes who, among other reasons, have missed the chance to qualify due to extraordinary circumstances.

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“It is like a dream come true,” said Tanwar, the 2019 World Para Taekwondo Championship bronze medallist.

The Tokyo Paralympics will be held from August 24 to September 5.

It was the Para Taekwondo Association of India (PTAI) that first pitched for this invitation for Tanwar, who competes in the K43 category, along with Gurcharan Singh (K44), Sarika Andana (K44) and Veena Arora (K44). World Taekwondo asked PTAI to re-route the application through the Paralympic Committee of India. The green light came from World Taekwondo president Chugwon Choue in an email to Paralympic Committee of India.

“It was heart-breaking to see athletes’ dreams getting shattered due to the pandemic. We know India can win medals during the Paralympics in taekwondo. We were elated to see Aruna getting a wild card entry. She is going to have a podium-finish in Tokyo. It would have been great if others too got the nod, but nevertheless, Aruna will be our bet for a medal now,” said Sukhdev Raj, coach and general secretary PTAI.

Tanwar, 21, is world No. 4 in the women’s U-49 category. A five-time national champion, she has had podium finishes in the last four years at Asian and world para taekwondo championships.

Growing up in a village named Dinod near Bhiwani in Haryana, Tanwar took keen interest in athletics and martial arts. This despite having three fingers in each hand and arms not fully formed.

The daughter of a factory driver and part-time farmer Naresh Kumar, Tanwar was impressed when boxer Paramjeet Samota from her village received a rousing welcome after winning a gold in 2010 Commonwealth Games 11 years ago.

“He has been an inspiration. The way he was welcomed that day made me work on becoming an athlete. When he became a DSP in Haryana, it again motivated me. We were not well-placed financially but my parents made sure I chased my dreams,” said Tanwar.

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And chase her dreams she did. Tanwar has won medals in a string of international events including a silver in the 2018 Asian Para Taekwondo Championship in Vietnam and bronze at the world championship in Antalya, Turkey.

Before 2017, Tanwar competed in general category and even won medals in 38kg class. She shifted to Paralympics because her weight category was not available in international events.

“I never let my physical deformity come in my way. My coaches have been supportive at every step. I will train really hard now and aim for a medal in the Paralympics,” said Tanwar, a physical education undergraduate at Chandigarh University, Mohali.

Tanwar’s name has been recommended to be included in India’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme which provides financial support to athletes. “She is quick, has great endurance along with flexibility. She has been training day and night, attending camps in Haryana, Lucknow and New Delhi for Paralympics. She has opened doors for other para taekwondo athletes,” said Raj.

A total of 72 athletes from 37 countries will take part in para taekwondo which debuts in Tokyo.