More than able: Race driver Chetan Korada on overcoming obstacles, differences, and what it takes to be a champion
If there’s one thing driving ace Chetan Korada knows, it’s adversity. Having lost both feet by the age of one due to a birth deformity, the bi-lateral amputee is only too aware of the trials and tribulations differently-abled persons face.
Yet, the 34-year-old racer and QNET brand ambassador, who has shown grit over the years to emerge as one of motor racing’s brightest and most inspiring lights, is also clear about one thing — he never allows challenges to hold him back.
The Indian international driver says he was firm from a very young age in wanting to show the world that despite physical disabilities, he was just like everybody else.
No room for self-pity
Part of the reason for this single-mindedness, Chetan admits, was due to his upbringing.
Chetan, who was born in Andhra Pradesh and brought up in Tamil Nadu, explains that there was never room for self-pity in his house. And this spurred him, he adds, to view himself as equal to his peers.
“My mum never gave space for sympathy when putting me to practice walking. Even though I used to bleed walking in those Jaipur feet (prosthetics of those days), she would never let me stop. Because my family never treated me any differently — they never wanted me to feel like I was differently-abled — I started adapting to everything around me as if I was like anyone else,” he says.
Thus, from childhood, Chetan found himself pursuing sports like tennis and basketball and always looking to excel at these. It’s also the reason that when he eventually climbed into the cockpit of a race car in 2007 — he knew he wanted to compete on a level playing field, and in an unmodified machine.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I can fit into the same car, I should be able to drive like them’,” says the owner and principal driver of Quest Motorsports, adding that while he did face challenges while learning to adapt to the Formula MRF 2000, which he drove from 2018 to 2020, he always told himself — “I’m no different from others”.
The importance of a positive attitude
Chetan’s revelation is similar in many ways to the stories shared by a number of differently-abled medal winners at the ongoing Tokyo Paralympics. Nevertheless, the racer, who holds the distinction of being the first motorsports driver in the world to win a race with synthetic feet, adds that, for him, self-belief and a positive attitude were also crucial in propelling him onwards and upwards.
“I’ve always had faith in my plans, and believed in being a go-getter. This helped me climb the ladder in my sporting career with consistency, year after year. I never stayed away from a race seat. I made sure that in the last 15 years, I was always sitting in a race car,” Chetan remarks.
“I’ve seen many talented race drivers leave their careers in between — whether because of sponsorships, disagreements, not sticking to a team or (getting) diverted from their plans — and [they] never found their way back to a race car again.
“Sports is one of those fields where you need a lot of self-motivation and persistence. Your talent won’t be recognised easily if you don’t wake up every day saying you will do your best no matter what … the moment you start believing in yourself, you automatically move towards success.”
Having the right support systems
This is all not to say, of course, that self-belief protects against failure. In fact, Chetan, who sits on the governing council of the Tamil Nadu Paralympic Sports Association, admits setbacks will always be part and parcel of any athlete’s quest for glory.
There are three support systems an elite competitor needs for success, Chetan adds. These include family members or friends one can rely on; the right coach; and most important of all, a mentor.
Explains the driver: “A mentor is a person whom you can trust and believe in the most. This person isn’t your coach. You may change your coach as you move along in your sports journey, but a mentor is someone who lays a map for your life.
“For me, this person has been Dato Sri Vijay Eswaran. He sometimes may not give me the answers to what I’m looking for, but instead, he asks me a question that I will focus on, sometimes for a few years, and somehow, I find the answer clearly in that search.”
“I have to be honest: it’s not easy,” says the racing champ, reflecting on the challenges he and other differently-abled athletes face in their journey to sporting excellence. “But I also understand one thing — if it was easy, everyone could do it.”
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