Pune: Soldiers housed in the Paraplegics Rehabilitation Centre (PRC) in Khadki, Pune, are cheering for the home team, Rising Pune Supergiant, in the IPL. But one team member is special for the soldiers. For a few years now, cricketer Rahul Tripathi has been visiting the soldiers at the centre with his mother, Saroj, bearing fruits and gifts. The Khadki institution houses soldiers forced to live in wheelchairs due to combat injuries. On Sunday, he visited the centre along with his teammates to launch the ‘Supergiants for Soldiers’ initiative, aimed at creating a support base for soldiers. The cricketers were left awestruck by a basketball-on-wheelchairs exhibition match, with the soldiers wheeling around furiously to get into position for a shot at the rim or to collect a rebound.Mr. Tripathi’s visits to the centre, close to his residence in Pune, were a result of his parents’ involvement with the institution. His father, Colonel A.K. Tripathi, says, “I am posted at the Command Centre, where each person is assigned one initiative. Helping out at the PRC was assigned to me, and my wife became involved. She fasts on certain days in the week, so I suggested gifting fruits on fasting days, and her visits became regular.”Tripathi, then a youngster working his way up the ranks in Maharashtra age group cricket, accompanied his mother whenever he was at home in Pune. He bonded with the soldiers, his visits bringing them joy and earning him their blessings.Col. Tripathi believes his son’s career took off after those trips to the PRC. “After a visit, he scored heavily in the next match. I feel those blessings were working. The donations began 2011 onwards. He kept coming here and his success in cricket continued.” The RPS batting sensation returned to the PRC as a celebrity of sorts on Sunday, clicking selfies and mingling with the combat veterans. He was happy to spend time with familiar faces. “I take away positive energy from here each time. Their courage to overcome difficulties is inspiring.” The 26-year-old’s stylish strokeplay when partnering with Ajinkya Rahane or Steve Smith, and the fact that he’s the only Maharashtra cricketer in the Pune playing squad, has made him a fan favourite at the MCA stadium. The Supergiants for Soldiers project, announced by CEO Raghu Iyer, aims at creating awareness and raising funds for the PRC through online fund-raising firm Ketto. The centre’s medical director, R.K. Mukherjee, said the facility needs wheelchairs, both manually and battery operated. He added that sport is a key aspect in the soldiers’ rehab. “There are soldiers here paralysed waist down, others with no movement in their limbs. We call them differently abled, not disabled, because at heart, they want to live life. Besides basketball, at which they excel, our soldiers take part in swimming, athletics, badminton, archery for paraplegics,” he said.