UAE, 20 March 2019: A young Special Olympics Bharat (India) athlete who was abandoned by her parents did her country proud yesterday by winning four silvers in the powerlifting competitions at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

Shallu, who only has one name, showed remarkable courage and strength to finish runner-up in the squat, bench press and deadlift events as well as the combined competition at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC).

It’s by far the biggest achievement for the 22-year-old but the start of the journey that saw her receive the medal in front of hundreds of people was not the easiest.

Aged four years old, Shallu, who has a speech impairment and learning disorder, was homeless on the streets of Amritsar, northwest India after being abandoned by her parents. But her life changed on 19 February 2000 when she was found outside by the principle of All-India Pingalwara Charitable Society - Padmini Shrivastava, who gave her a new beginning.

“For me, I look up to her as a mother. She has done a lot for me and I am very grateful to him for giving me a home and supporting me,” said Shallu.

It was at the society, which is also an orphanage, where Shallu took an interest in sport, particularly athletics and football. But she was persuaded to try powerlifting at the orphanage and hasn’t looked back since.

“I really enjoy powerlifting because it’s a sport that requires strength but one where it makes me smile every day,” said Shallu. “It is a dream for me to win medals at my first World Games and I have to thank all the coaches who have helped me win them as I would not been able to do it without their support.”

Having seen her excel at Special Olympics competitions, Bharat’s powerlifting coach Sukhwinder Singh has nothing but praise for Shallu’s determination.

“Like the rest of the athletes on the team, Shallu is leading by example,” he said. “We have been really impressed with her courage and determination. We have not only seen an improvement in powerlifting but the sport has given her new skills, which she is putting to use every day. She certainly has a bright future ahead of her.”

Sharan Sunner