PUNE: Narayana Konganapalle and Kuldeep Singh have established a partnership unlike any other.
Both the para-rowers had lost their legs in a landmine blast at the same location, Nowshera in Jammu and Kashmir, in identical circumstances two years apart.
On Saturday, five years after striking their combination, they clinched their third international bronze medal – in the PR3 men’s pair event at the World Rowing Cup 2 in Poznan, Poland.
Narayana and Kuldeep finished in 7 minutes 33.35 seconds behind France’s Jerome Hamelin and Laurent Cadot (6:52.08) and Andrii Sayvykh & Dmytro Herez of Ukraine (7:29.20).
The duo had won their first bronze at the same venue in 2019 and their second later that year at the Para-Rowing Asian Championships in South Korea.
“I am feeling very proud to have won the bronze for the country. I have to thank the federation, SAI and the Army Rowing Node,” said Andhra’s Narayana, who belongs to the Madras Engineer Group of the Indian army.
Kuldeep, from the 2 Jat regiment, was equally thrilled.
“The phone has not stopped ringing,” said the 30-year-old from Haryana.
The common thread that runs through their lives is remarkable.
Both hail from families with farming backgrounds and they are the only ones in their families to join the armed forces.
Kuldeep, who had won gold in volleyball at the sub-junior and junior levels for Haryana, joined the army through sports quota in 2010.
Narayana, three years elder to his teammate, played kabaddi and football in his school days and has district level gold medals in kabaddi. He entered the Services in 2007.
Both recall their fateful days with clarity. While Kuldeep was injured in 2013, Narayana was hurt in 2015.
“I was a part of the team sent for an operation in the forward area. We had crossed the fence and were returning when I stepped on the landmine,” said Narayana.
He had married only a year earlier.
Kuldeep remembers the date and time. “It was 12th June (2013), 12.15 pm,” he said.
Needless to say, the following couple of years were as much challenging mentally as physically.
“I thought I was going to be like this forever,” said Kuldeep, referring to the initial days of struggle to even walk.
Both were sent to the artificial limb center in Pune, where they were fitted with prosthetics. Then, at the suggestion of Lt Col Gaurav Dutta, the country’s most famous para-athlete who himself had lost his left foot in a similar way, they took up para-athletics.
Narayana said: “When I came to Pune and saw others with similar disabilities but competing in sports, I started getting my confidence back.”
“He (Narayana) said to me ‘if I can walk, you can run’,” Kuldeep, who was released by his regiment a little later, said.
Again, the pair excelled in javelin throw before Dutta, considering their height and build, advised them to switch to rowing.
“At that time, in 2017, para-rowing was being introduced in India. So the federation was looking for athletes with the right physique,” Narayana, who has a boy and a girl, said.
“We were also finding running difficult because we couldn’t get suitable running blades,” Kuldeep said.
Whatever the reasons, it has resulted in a successful partnership for the country.
They could have competed at their maiden Olympics in Tokyo last year, but circumstances didn’t allow it.
“We don’t have the men’s pair at the Paralympics, only the mixed fours. But we don’t have women rowers fitting the criteria,” Narayana said.