Chimi Dema, a trailblazing para-athlete to etched her name in history by clinching a Silver medal at the 5th India Open Championship in May 2023. Her journey as a representative of Bhutan in the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, from August 24 to September 5, and her stellar performances in various international competitions have solidified her status as a remarkable athlete on the global stage.
Q. We are eager to get to know you better. Can you share a glimpse of who you are?
A. Hello, I am Chimi Dema, and I hail from Mongar. Thanks to the Bhutan Olympic Committee and Royal Thimphu College (RTC), I had the privilege of receiving a scholarship, and I am currently in my second year at RTC.
Q. When did you embark on your journey in shot put, and what inspired you to pursue a career in this sport?
A. My interest in sports didn’t blossom during my early years, and I had little knowledge of shot put. After completing my 12th-grade education, I found myself at a crossroads, uncertain about my next steps. It was during this period that I chanced upon a program on Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) featuring a Paralympian. This experience deeply resonated with me, and it received strong encouragement from both my parents and relatives, which motivated me to pursue a career in sports. That’s when I made the pivotal decision to join the Bhutan Olympic Committee in 2018.
Q. As a shot-put athlete, what challenges and difficulties did you face?
A. During my younger years, I had limited exposure to sports, making the initial phase quite physically demanding. Competing against other athletes presented its share of challenges, and the process of mastering the sport proved to be a formidable struggle. The early days of training were undeniably rigorous.
Q. How did you manage to overcome those challenges?
A. Well, I firmly believe that it all boils down to inner determination. Conquering these challenges is crucial for achieving independence. While I currently enjoy the support of my friends and family, I am aware that in the future, self-reliance will be paramount. Much like in the past when I struggled to use taxis, I have triumphed over such obstacles. Becoming an athlete has not only enhanced my physical fitness but has also boosted my self-confidence.
Q. You had the opportunity to represent Bhutan in Paralympic tournaments. How did that make you feel?
A. In 2019, I had the privilege of participating in the Paralympic Games held in China. During that competition, I may not have achieved remarkable results, but my coach encouraged me to focus on attaining the minimum qualification score required to advance to the next round. Successfully achieving that minimum qualification score filled me with immense pride.
Q. You have actively engaged in both domestic and international sports. What differences have you observed between the two experiences?
A. The contrast between the two countries is like night and day. In terms of knowledge and exposure, they are leaps ahead, having introduced their youth to the Paralympics from an early age. Even in terms of facilities, they surpass us with superior equipment and resources.
Q. Since 2018, you have been actively involved in Paralympic sports. What are some of the new things you have learned or discovered on this journey?
A. Initially, I lacked the confidence to stand in front of an audience. I felt uncertain about being among athletes with more experience than I had. I also harbored concerns about how people would perceive me, fearing potential judgments based on my physical disability. Additionally, I wondered how I would face my fellow countrymen if I couldn’t meet their expectations after representing our nation in the Paralympics. However, over time, I have steadily built my confidence and focused on self-improvement.
Q. Have you encountered criticism or judgment regarding your physical disability as an athlete?
A. As a para-athlete, I haven’t faced much criticism or judgment related to my physical disability. Instead, people have been quite supportive of my career. However, before becoming an athlete, whenever I went out, I often encountered individuals who would stare at me as if they had never seen someone like me before.
Q. What kind of support do you receive as an athlete?
A. I am blessed with unwavering support from my parents and other family members who not only offer their full support but also provide valuable advice and guidance. I am particularly grateful for my coach, who has been a constant presence throughout my journey. Whenever doubts or discouragement crept in, he consistently uplifted me with his positive words and guidance. I owe a great deal of my achievements to his unwavering support.
Q. Have you ever contemplated leaving the para-athlete path?
A. The thought of quitting has never crossed my mind. Once I embark on a journey, my determination is unwavering. Currently, I am deeply immersed in studying sports and athletes, and my passion for it keeps me going. I believe I will remain a para-athlete for as long as I live.
Q. Can you share your future plans with us?
A. After completing my studies, my plan is to continue as a para-athlete for as long as my body allows. Beyond that, I aspire to work with the Druk Paralympic Committee if they provide me with the opportunity. My goal is to support individuals like me, creating new opportunities for them and sharing the knowledge I have gained along the way.
I have met many individuals like me during Paralympic events in different Dzongkhags. Unfortunately, some of them lack the opportunity to come to Thimphu and pursue athletics, often due to parental objections. I want to convey a message to those who share the same passion for athletics: even if you don’t currently have the chance, believe that your dreams can come true one day. To the parents and families of disabled children, I want to emphasize that if your child is genuinely interested in sports and aspires to be an athlete, always be their support system. Instead of discouraging their decision, provide them with guidance and advice. If they are truly enthusiastic, they can reach out to the Bhutan Paralympic Committee; they will undoubtedly provide the necessary support.