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Nothing stops ‘tenacious’ Palak Kohli as the para-shuttler prepares for Paris Paralympics

Palak Kohli’s journey in para badminton has the word ‘tenacious’ written all over it. Case in point, the 21-year-old’s maiden World Championships medal – a bronze – at the recently held edition in Pattaya, Thailand, less than a year after a comeback from a major surgery.

Kohli, who was born with an underdeveloped left arm, played in singles (SU5 category – Standing/upper limb impairment), women’s doubles [SU5 -SL3 (Standing/lower limb impairment/severe)] as well as mixed doubles when para-badminton made its debut in Tokyo Paralympics 2021. For someone who had always been discouraged from playing and told to focus only on studies during her school days in Jalandhar, it was an incredible achievement at the age of 18.

However, a year later, she was forced to undergo an emergency surgery for a bone tumour on her left ankle. This time, even national coach Gaurav Khanna, who first told her about para-badminton in a chance meeting in 2016, could not help but advise Kohli not to play for her own health’s sake. “It was definitely tough (to hear those things) but on their side, they were right because my health was not at all a better stage and it was getting worse day by day. It came to a stage where I had to drop from tournaments. But I consider him as one of my best well-wishers,” Kohli told Sportstar in an exclusive interview after returning from Thailand.

But Kohli, tenacious as ever, did not stop while a major shift awaited her. The surgery made her left foot shrink to almost half the size of her right foot, requiring customised shoes and ankle support. As a result, she switched from SU5 to SL4 category (Standing/lower limb impairment/minor) in singles once she returned to the international circuit in April last year.

In her very first event in Brazil, she clinched bronze in both singles and doubles. Since then, she has won one gold, one silver and nine more bronze medals across singles, doubles and mixed doubles in nine events.

Kohli did, however, have another blip when she tested positive for COVID-19 once she landed in Hangzhou and could not compete at the Asian Para Games.

“Comebacks are always very tough. When, at a certain stage, you are dealing with multiple health issues, you don’t know what life has next for you. Same was my case. I did not know what the next day would bring up – maybe more complications, more ups and down,” said Kohli, who has had her training base in Lucknow ever since she started playing professionally.

“It was tough for me to restart again from rank zero being out of the international circuit for more than a year and starting the tournaments from scratch to qualify for Paris Paralympics,” added the athlete backed by Welspun group.

Despite all the setbacks, Kohli has fought hard and is currently sixth in SL4 singles category qualification race for Paris. She knows where to improve her game and her plan for the Summer Games in the French capital is ready.

“Everybody knows that I have a disability in my left arm as well as my left leg. They mostly target my backhand side. It’s more tough for me but I’m definitely working on this. Since I am facing some challenges in my recovery as well, so I will be playing only singles in the coming Paris Paralympics,” said Kohli.

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