Cliff Hanger

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For lack of facilities around and the inability to have an attendant with him all the time, Ashraf discontinued his studies. One day, a mountaineering coach discovered and trained him and that gave this born blind boy a new life to live for, reports Umar Mukhtar

Mohammad Ashraf Sofi, 22, a resident of Trich, a small hamlet in Pulwama is visually impaired by birth. The medical certificate issued by the medical officer shows complete visual disability in both his eyes. He cannot see, his eyelids remain close always.

But passions normally do not rely on the situations one has around. He was always eager to take part in the activities like a normal boy of his age. He wanted to be on par with his peers.

After studying up to the seventh standard in a local school, his teachers advised his father to admit him in a school meant for specially-abled children. He was enrolled in a school at Pulwama, almost 10 km away from his home.

It was not a small exercise. The family had to depute one person with him all the day who would assist Sofi in taking and getting him back from the school. It would impact the earnings of the family because they could not spare a person as Sofi’s aid. This impacted Sofi’s education and eventually, he had to quit the studies.

“I wanted to continue my studies but my disability factor came in between,” Sofi said. “I was dependent on others.”

Sitting idle at home and making disability an excuse for doing nothing, Sofi wanted to break this stereotype by doing something. He started going to local Darasgah, learnt Arabic and basics of deeniyaat there. Also one of his videos has gone viral on social networking sites where he can be seen reciting a naat.

“He is a witty child and does almost all his work without any assistance,” said his father, a labour by profession.

The ice-breaking moment in Sofi’s life was when he came in contact with a mountaineering coach, Syed Abdul Mohsin Andrabi, a resident of Ratnipora, a neighbouring village. In January 2018, Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) announced to have a wall climbing national championship for the visually impaired boys. Andrabi, the IMF general secretary in Kashmir had heard of Sofi. He approached him and asked if he wanted to participate. To this, Sofi got overwhelmed and instantly agreed to be part of the championship.

For Sofi, it was dream come true. To his luck, the coach was also a stone’s throw away from his home, barely two kilometres away from Ratnipora. He started getting coaching from Andrabi. He taught him some basic exercises which helped Sofi in getting a firm grip on what he was supposed to compete for. Gradually he improved. “His response was outstanding, he picked up things with ease,” Andrabi said.

Sofi left no stone unturned and practised very tough. A willow tree in the yard of their house was the only source available for his practice. To chase his dreams, Sofi used to practice by climbing it to the top thrice a day.“It is true he has no vision but he has a willpower which makes him see the things,” insists his father.

“There are no facilities available where he could have either practised,” said Andrabi. There is only one wall climbing facility in Kashmir at TRC in Nowgam, near the Railway Station. That too is not under any sports authority but that comes under the tourism authority. For a visually impaired boy like Sofi, it was not his cup of tea to come to Srinagar daily and practice there. So the rough practice on a willow tree was all he could do.

Finally on March 27, the much awaited first ever national sports climbing championship for visually impaired boys was held at Jammu. Sofi represented Jammu and Kashmir. “I had practised hard and was confident of doing well there but I was little nervous also as it was for the first time I had to participate in such a championship,” admitted Sofi.

But hard work pays. Sofi made it to the semi-finals grabbing the seventh spot in a two-day climbing championship. It was a 45 feet high wall that he had to climb. For a visually impaired boy, to climb a 45 feet wall that too without any support is in itself a feat. This was the first ever Indian IMF national sports climbing championship for visually impaired persons.

There were around 80 participants from six different states who took part in the wall climbing event. In the boy’s category, there were 40 participants. “Though he could not make it to finals but his maiden performance with little practice must be appreciated,” insists Andrabi, his coach.

Confidant and eager, Sofi is now interested in sports. He is now eager to take part in another championship. Now he has three main activities: prayers, practice and listening to the radio about the sports events.

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