“I am not short, I am just more down to earth than most people.”
-Kim Fowler Frazer
He was born in Adukkom near Poonjar, Kottayam in the year 1976. His father was a small farmer and agriculture was his main source of income. He was born with a disability which stunted his growth at 3 feet 5 inches only. His home was located on top of a hill, and for a physically-challenged person it wasn’t the most conducive place for mobility. There were obstructions everywhere. He had to walk a quarter of a mile before he got to a real road and his mother used to carry him to school. That is how he made it to school in first year. At school, he was forced to sit on the sidelines while other students played exciting sports. This made him feel sad. Can such a person overcome frustration and live a normal life?
Hold your breath for you are in for a surprise! He not only lived a normal life but has become a source of inspiration for many. This man who did not allow severe disabilities to come in the way of his ambitions, has won a gold medal at the World Arm Wrestling Championship. Despite having 60 per cent disability since birth, he has also won 10 world medals in the last one decade. Joby Mathew, the 36-year-old man, who suffers from Bilateral Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency or in simpler terms stunted growth of the legs since birth, has been a World Arm Wrestling champion twice. What his legs could not, he has achieved with his arms and a bundle of raw courage and grit. “I don’t have legs, so I cannot play football or basketball. Hence I focused on my arm power and started arm wrestling in school days. Soon, I was defeating every one,” Mathew said.
Joby Mathew after winning the World Championship in Spain 2012
Once he reached college, he realized that arm wrestling was a prestigious event and he started taking it up seriously. He figured out that there were national and international competitions for arm wrestling. Arm wrestling needs a lot of practice and he started going to a gym from 1992. From then on, he started participating in competitions. He started off by entering events for the disabled and started winning. “My athletic career started in 1983 during the District Sports Meet at Kottayam. I won’t call it the path-breaking event in my life but it was there that it all started. I managed to win the gold medal in running and throw ball events for the disabled category. Something changed from thereon. Soon, I entered events for the abled bodied as well and to my surprise I started winning those events as well!” he said.
In 2005, his dream came true and he was able to be a part of the World Championships in Japan. He participated in both the General and Disabled categories. By God’s grace, he managed to win 3 medals for India during the Championships. In 2008, he went a step further and became the World Champion in the General Category at the World Arm Wrestling Championship held in Spain. He also managed to win a silver medal in the disabled category. During the 2009 World Championship in Egypt, he won a silver medal each in the disabled and general category. In 2010, he won a silver medal for badminton during the Paralympics in Israel. In the 2012 World Arm Wrestling Championships held in Spain, he won a gold medal and 2 silver medals. “2013 was a great year for me as I got to participate in the World Dwarf Olympic Games in Michigan. I became the World Champion in 5 different events – Badminton Singles, Badminton Doubles, Shot-put, Javelin Throw and Discus Throw.” he said. Joby, is also the first wheel-chaired fencer in India, holds a brown belt in karate, is a member of the Kerala state parasailing and paragliding team and is a keen swimmer. Rotary Club of Cochin Knights honoured him by giving their 9th vocational excellence award on 20 October 2013.
He proved that hard work, determination, conviction, and working on one’s strong points could dwarf all other perceived disadvantages associated with a physically challenged person like him. His success is as much about his rigorous training as his positive attitude.Joby follows a strict exercise regimen to keep himself fit. He wakes up daily at 5 am and visits the gym where he spends an hour. Next, an hour of swimming and rock climbing for half an hour follows. After having breakfast, he is off to office. Joby is an Assistant Manager (sports trainer) at Bharat Petroleum, where he has been employed since 2008.In the evenings he could be seen playing badminton at the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium. Mathew even drives a specially modified car which enhances his confidence.
“There is so much to learn for all of us from Joby. It’s just his determination that keeps him going,” Mathew’s trainer Shaji said. “When Joby Mathew addressed us for the first time, he motivated us with his challenges and achievements. He is an inspiration to us,” Krishnan R Menon said. According to Joby, winning medals is one aspect of his life, but more important for him is to inspire people and touch their lives. He speaks in schools and colleges and other public functions motivating people to aspire and make the best of what they have. “If you let your limitations take over your mind, they will destroy you,” he says. From his own experiences Joby could inspire millions. “I don’t feel I am a disabled person. I believe in my abilities,” says Joby, who is in great demand as a motivational speaker these days. When asked to spell out the secret of his success he said, “If you let your limitations take over your mind, they will destroy you. You must accept your limitations and do the best with what you have.”
When Mathew isn’t thinking of sports, he dons the role of a husband, and a father to his three-year-old son. Behind every successful man there is a woman. 25-year-old Megha, a dance expert, played the role of a supportive wife and helped him to convert his disability into his biggest strength. “One ambition which remains is to scale the Mount Everest. I want to achieve that in eight years from now after having undergone proper training,” Mathew said. But as the world champion goes on breaking every possible barrier in sports, there is one thing that he is still waiting for and that is recognition because he too has done his nation proud in whatever way he could. Joby hopes that the Indian government would honor him with Arjuna Award for his achievements as an arm wrestler in the national and international arena.