When Sundarapandi, an 18-year-old sponsored youth in India, lost his hands in an electrical accident at age 10, he never imagined he would someday become a decorated athlete.
Winning three gold and one bronze medal in the India National Paralympics in 2015, Sundarapandi has achieved far beyond what he ever could have dreamed.
Sundarapandi suffered a severe injury after coming in contact with a live wire. To save his life, his hands were surgically removed, resulting in massive medical expenses and a whole new way of living. In order to cover his treatment, his family had to sell their home.
Two years later, he joined the Unbound program, and was connected with a sponsor in Missouri, who has sponsored him for the past eight years. Sponsorship helped to stabilize his family and encouraged him to work hard toward success in his life.
“Only after this sponsorship were we relaxed,” Sundarapandi said. “My sponsor’s name is Paul, and I owe my gratitude to my sponsor and his family. Our [Unbound] project coordinator and staff also encouraged me in all aspects.”
Around the same time he was sponsored, Sundarapandi started swimming, finding it was one of the only activities he was able to confidently do with his peers, having spent the past two years being ignored because he was unable to play many common games because of his disability. He learned swimming from his friends, and over time teachers and coaches saw that he had talent.
He went from swimming in a lake with friends as a hobby to competing in the state-level Paralympics meet in Chennai, India. He won gold.
“I was nervous when I took part in the state-level meet in Chennai,” Sundarapandi said. “I won the match and got a gold medal. After that, I was very cool when I took part in the national-level match in the state of Karnataka.”
The Chennai win meant he qualified for the national competition, where he won the gold medal in his age in group in the 100-meter breast stroke, 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter backstroke. He also bagged a bronze in the 100-meter backstroke.
“I was very happy and roamed around the whole city of Belagavi in Karnataka out of excitement,” he said.
Sundarapandi’s confidence and perseverance that led him to become an award-winning swimmer are the same traits that allowed him to learn to write and ride a bicycle — he doesn’t give up at anything and sees adversity as a challenge to overcome.
Sundarapandi is now taking a computer application course and dreams of getting a great job and leading a peaceful life — all while winning more swimming medals.
“I will do my level best with the support of Unbound and my sponsor family,” he said.
Congratulations, Sundarapandi, on your accomplishments! Keep winning those golds.
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Special thanks to the following Unbound staff members in Trichy, India, who contributed to this story: Subasri A., Ms. Indhumathi, Mr. Rajeskkumar, and Ms. Kanyakumari.