Deepa Malik

Deepa Malik ParalympicsOn September 12th, 2016, the oldest athlete of Indian contingent—45 years old Deepa Malik, scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman athlete to win a medal in the Paralympic games. A silver medal in the shot put in the 2016 Rio Summer Paralympics. At an age when most women are having mid-life crises, she was holding a medal in her hand.

Deepa was diagnosed with a spine tumor when she was just 5. It took around 3 years of treatment and aggressive physiotherapy to recover from that. In 1999, when she was 29, the spine tumor returned and doctors were left with no other option but to operate. They made it clear to her that the surgery would make her unable to walk. It took 3 surgeries and 183 stitches to eliminate the cancerous tumor off her body. But, it left her paralyzed from the waist down. After the surgery, she underwent physiotherapy for almost six years. Tough times never last, but, tough people do. These lines perfectly suit Deepa’s life struggles.

Raised in an army family and married to an army officer, she is used to braving difficulties that most of us can’t even think of facing. She is a proud mother of two daughters. Deepa has never been daunted by adversity. She wears a multitude of hats—a paralympic athlete, a motor rally driver, a swimmer, a sports bike racer, an entrepreneur, a motivational speaker, and a prominent disability activist.

Deepa firmly refuses to let any conversation veer to sympathy that her disability often attracts. At an age when most athletes are considering retirement, Deepa was just getting started. She began by joining the Himalayan Motorsports Association and conquered an 8-day 1,700 km bike ride to 18,000 feet in sub-zero temperatures.

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She has won 18 international and more than 54 national medals in various sporting events. It would take more than a few minutes to go through the list of international sporting events she has participated in and 4 Limca world records are registered under her name. She has also received several other awards and recognition for her achievements. She was awarded the prestigious Arjuna award in 2012 at the age of 42, making her the oldest recipient of Arjuna awards. She was also given the prestigious Padmashri Award in 2017. She may be confined to a wheelchair, but her heart takes her to places where our legs don’t. In an Exclusive conversation with PHYSIOTIMES Director, Mukesh Nayak, Deepa Malik shares her story of grit and determination and above all the story of the triumph of ability over disability. She also emphasizes the role played by physiotherapy in her overall rehabilitation and performance as an athlete.

Mukesh Nayak: Please tell us the first time you were diagnosed with spinal tumour.

Basically the first time the tumour stuck was when I was 5 years old. The doctors couldn’t find it because of lack of investigation as there were no MRIs and CT SCANs and nothing was showing up in the X-ray or blood. I was complaining of pain in the back and generally feeling lazy, not wanting to move and then one fine day I couldn’t raise my legs to climb out of the school bus and that’s when my father felt a little alarmed. I was eventually admitted in Pune Command Hospital where they did lumbar puncture on me to find out if there is any spinal infection. I remember I had at least 7 lumbar punctures. Then I was also treated for tuberculosis meningitis. Eventually one neuro surgeon, a young major, had come back from USA after attending a seminar there and he suggested to do a myelogram and in that myelogram x-ray they finally found out that there is a blockage. On the basis of the myelogram they operated upon my upper spine and found out a cyst between the bones and the cord and ones it was removed, the compression on the cord was relieved. There was still flexibility there and slowly I recovered.

Nayak: Did you undergo any physiotherapy during this early phase?

Yes, I underwent a very very aggressive physiotherapy during those three years. I had to do rehabilitation and occupational therapy continuously for eight hours a day. So it was really very tedious for a small child. The equipments were very crude those days. I remember the leather chest brace given to me to keep my spine straight and the chin guard given to me that made blisters on my body. I was also given iron callipers. Now you have those soft fibre ones. What I used to have was a strap of leather with iron rods in it and they were strapped onto my hip. It was really cumbersome. From the age of 7 & ½ to 9 ½, I was doing nothing but physiotherapy.

Nayak: At this point did you understand what physiotherapy actually meant?

For me it was told, if I do this I will walk. Every time I will do this, I will get something to eat whether it was a chocolate or an idli or like an outing etc. It was very incentive oriented for a child, but today when I look back I can imagine how difficult it was. So at that time I didn’t realise, what rehab was. For me it was an activity which was told by parents. “You have to do it”. Of course, it wasn’t easy. I used to bleed on my blisters, I used to cry, felt awkward going like that to the school.

Nayak: Do you recollect some of the moments with your physio in those days while doing the treatment?

I was fortunate that I had a very good physiotherapist who could play on with the child psychology. For me a physio, especially for pediatrics, should be very patient, very innovative, has to become a child with a child. I remember when I was taught to balance in a crawl position, my physio would lie down with me on the mat and we would play roll, roll, roll and then he would crawl with me in the whole hall. We used to have a crawling race.

Nayak: Who was the physio you worked with in those days?

He was Mr. Fatolkar. He was in Pune Southern Command Hospital in 1977-78. Unfortunately he met with a sad demise.
Nayak: You recovered fully and started a normal life again. 100 percent recovery with just a scar of the surgery.

Deepa Malik in gym
Mukesh Nayak, Deepa Malik and trainers

There were no symptoms, nothing. I played every game in the school, I was in the Rajasthan state level cricket team, played basketball, I was a good swimmer, a horse rider. I was an army child who did all the activities. Then I got married and I had my first child, Devika. She met with an accident. She got an injury on the right side of her head which got her left hand to get paralysed. As a 1 ½ year old, my daughter was hemiplegic. Then the same stint started with physiotherapy.

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Nayak: So physiotherapy seems to have played a major role in your life.

Physiotherapy is so important in my life, and that is why I have agreed to do this interview. It was as if the almighty wanted me to learn how to deal with a small child during physiotherapy, I was given that introduction in the childhood and I knew exactly how to handle my child. It’s sad that the history repeated itself, but it made me a confident mother because I had undergone and same thing started for her, Physiotherapy.

Nayak: Your tumour eventually relapsed.

In 1999, I started feeling that the deterioration is there and I couldn’t bend down to tie my shoelaces, I couldn’t lift the child because the younger one was born. I couldn’t lift her from the ground and stand up. I couldn’t manoeuvre stairs without holding the railing. I felt that the weakness is coming. Finally when I went to Jaipur and my husband went to Kargil war, I started getting my treatment. I thought I needed a splint because the first symptom was a foot drop on the left side. So somebody advised to get a foot splint, so that the foot doesn’t drop.

I went to Dr. P. K. Sethi of “Jaipur foot” fame, in SDM hospital, Jaipur. He saw me walk into his office; He said “This has nothing to do with my case. You go to a neuro physician, get yourself an MRI of dorsal spine and come back to me.” This was even before he had my background history of a tumour. Just looking at my gait he advised. This is what experience means. So I went for my MRI, and the MRI showed a cyst of 3.5 cm x 1.5 cm and it was originating from within the cord and this time it was a hard mark.

Nayak: You underwent three major surgeries.

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I was immediately rushed to Army R & R hospital, Delhi and there I was operated on 3rd June 1999 and it’s been almost 18 years now. My doctor told me that it is going to be a redo surgery. Surgery happened and everything was fine. I was still on the tube but the doctor suddenly noticed a puddle of water under my bed, so he started looking at my urinary bag because I had a catheter bag on myself, but unfortunately nothing was there. When I was rolled over, my entire cerebrospinal fluid had leaked out of my surgery side. So, it became an emergency situation because there was no liquid around the brain and I was sleeping into coma, when they rushed me in to my third surgery.

They had opened me up all over again and patch that bit because cerebrospinal fluid was leaking, nothing was left of it. It was very difficult to open the body where a surgery was just done, re-cut that part and it became a hash inside, they patched it up and waited because I had to be put on steroids to get the fluid instantly back, brain was dry, I lost my speech infact and there was toning of the eyes, I was not blinking my eyes. It was a very cumbersome and dangerous situation. It took me almost 30 days to normalise. I was on the ventilator. It became more bothersome because I lost 40 days, which I could have utilised in post surgery rehab. Psychologically it was even worse.

Nayak: Since you were not born with a disability, how did you cope with it in the initial days post surgery?

Of course doctors had predicted that when we remove the tumour, there will be a break in the spinal cord below chest level, we will face paralysis. I was given seven days to celebrate walking, to prepare and to learn what is what. I had some idea because I had seen in the childhood and also seen my daughter and I was educated to learn more about it. So I had already brought a wheelchair and other things before hand. I had no option but to accept the reality and adapt myself to it. It was pretty depressing in the beginning but the love and support of my family made the process easy for me. The acceptance of your disability by your near and dear ones can make a lot of contribution to ones confidence.

Nayak: What were the biggest challenges in your rehabilitation post your surgeries?

I was in an army hospital. I am a colonel’s wife. So the people who were doing rehab on me were fauji jawans. They were very junior ranked uniform wearing physiotherapists. So when they were handling a colonel’s wife, they were basically scared, they were shy and there was no conversation. It was just mechanical. They would stick to their drills and go away. There was no conversation with the only person who was the end all for me now because doctors had done everything. There wasn’t interaction so there weren’t any suggestions. I was getting rehabilitation but it was incomplete. Because the person was not making too much of a body contact. I remember getting passive movements and that was the end of it. Then there was no instruction on how I can do things, what kind of a wheelchair I would require, or at home what can I do, so basically I left the hospital six months later in a very basic state. There was no wheelchair transferring that was taught to me, whatever I managed, I managed on my own. No real description was given to me on how to manage spasticity, because I had spastic paraplegia.

Only when I was on the bed for another six months when I came to my house, I was feeling useless. On surfing on the internet and going into the spinal cord injury chat room, I started talking to people abroad; they asked me “how the hell are you living alone in a spinal cord injury”. I said yeah “I am doing everything.” So they asked me “how the hell you are doing these things”. Nearly six years passed post surgery with basic rehab. I was then at Ahmednagar, Maharasthtra. I lived in a farm house at my in-laws place. I was given a maid. I had the best of facilities but something was still a miss.

Nayak: How did the things eventually turn around for you?

I was generally active. I was an army wife. I was doing things because I had the will. I was reading a lot. I started running a restaurant but still I didn’t know how to travel, I had no clue on bladder management. During all this chatting, I came across a person called Mr. Arun Sondhi, who was also a paraplegic. He was to take a workshop in Indian Spinal Injury Centre, New Delhi in November 2005 for six weeks. I was told that you will not come with immediate family. You will come with an unknown person who is not your family. So I came to Jaipur and from there my father gave me his car and a driver. I booked myself a room in the army guest house at Delhi. The whole family was very worried that how are you going to do this all by yourself.

Nayak: So what did you learn in those six weeks?

In those six weeks I learnt the tricks of the trade. Where in he told me how to change clothes, what is the way of using a catheter bag, how to do self catheterization, how to do spasm control, how to do self stretching, how to do my wheel chair transfers, what kind of wheelchair should I use, what are the modifications to the wheel chair that would help you, what are the bathing chairs, what are the folding equipments that you can carry with you, how to roll over and take a bedpan on your own. For example, I could manage initially my bladder with pressure control. So they told you can have small huggies like diapers and you can roll over, you can have a big bottle, put Dettol water inside, you roll over, you take the bed pan, you pass the urine with pressure method and then you roll over back, and you put that urine into the plastic bag in which you have a diaper kept. Spill the urine on the baby diaper. Then put a little Dettol water in it. Rotate it. Spill that also and put it in a plastic bag and fill it. So I learnt to do things on my own. Then I started travelling in the train. I would just take a wheelchair attendant and I could travel anywhere because I had learnt the trick.

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My physio there was Virendra Vikram Singh. He taught me simple tricks to release my spasm. They got callipers made for me, which I could wear and lock the knees so that I can stand up in the walker. What I learnt was that standing doesn’t need to be a punishment. He said, “Standing you can do in front of a kitchen. You can put your walker around you, wear a calliper, stand up and have someone lock your knees. And then on one hand you can take support on the walker and from the other hand may be you can cook something. By the time you finish cooking something on the table, you have spent 10 minutes standing.” They even took me to a discotheque in Delhi. They made me stand in the walker. While everybody was dancing, I was also rotating my neck from one side to the other. This whole getting back into the life, is what I learnt in those six weeks.

Nayak: How did life change after those six weeks of training?

Arun Sondhi was a paralympic power lifter and a medallist from world championship of power lifting. From him I learnt that there is something called para sports. I was asked if I am scared of water. I said no I am not scared of water. Then I was taken into the hydrotherapy, and made to do all my water exercises. When I came back to Ahmednagar, in December, I took both my girls and went to the swimming pool. Suddenly my world changed.

Then I also learnt how to drive the motorcycle. I saw the video of his motorcycle, which he got made from Sweden. I also saw his wheelchair. I learnt sports from him. And whatever I learnt from him, I started implementing in my life. Suddenly, I was dancing in the parties. I would dress accordingly. If I wanted to put on callipers, I started wearing long skirts. And then I would take my walker and stand in the dance parties. I got a gadget and I started driving. Learnt my own transfers. I started changing clothes on my own. My clothing style changed because I had learnt.

Nayak: How did your journey into sports eventually start?

2006 I started my sports career. A member of the Sports Authority of the country once watched me swimming as a part of my daily training exercise. As a result of this, I was invited by the Maharashtra government to represent the country in the FESPIC Games held in Kuala Lumpur in 2006. I won the Silver medal in S5 Backstroke Swimming that year. I could swim but I never knew that it was worth a medal. From swimming medals I got some credibility, and on basis of that fame I got sponsorship to get a bike made. When I got a bike made, I could be on MTV Roadies. I was able to do rallies. Simultaneously, I was also making records in swimming and after swimming I shifted gears to athletics.

In 2007, I went to IWAS (The International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports) World games held in Taiwan to have a feel of the world athletic games. But when I went there I realised that I didn’t even have a throw chair. I came fourth in Javelin F-53 category. Had I had the chair and the proper gear I would have probably got a medal even in 2007. I came back. I learnt everything. That was the shifting time.

Nayak: What was the key reason for shifting to athletics when you were already doing well in swimming?

When I was doing swimming, the issue was I could only swim in the summer months. I was getting very badly cramped, I was getting too much of spasm in cold water. The problem was the blood circulation was weak as the temperature control was not there in the body due to spinal cord injury. I would get breathless also. Doctors said if the spasm is affecting your lungs due to cold water and your circulation is not becoming alright, definitely it can lead to a cardiac arrest. So you would not swim in the cold water. “If I don’t swim in the cold water, how would I practice?” Because internationally, the competitions were held round the year.

I made a world record on June 15th , 2008 as I crossed river Yamuna against the current for 1 km in Allahabad after doing my aggressive practice in Gwalior, Laxmibai National institute. I felt that “I am a good swimmer. If a woman like me can cross a river, if India gives me infrastructure, I can be a better swimmer.” But there was no infrastructure. There were no such camps where I got heated swimming pools. Somewhere internationally I wasn’t getting a medal. I was then advised to shift gears to athletics. I realised that Haryana had better sports policies than Maharashtra. So I re-started my career with Haryana as an athlete.

Nayak: Which was the first sport you took up once you decided to become an athlete?

After creating a world record in swimming by crossing river Yamuna, I started training aggressively for athletics and in 2009 IWAS World Games were being held in Bangalore. In this I was categorized under F-53 and I got a bronze medal in shotput. From there I got selected into common wealth games. At the age of 40, I came to join a camp. For the first time I was on a camp. I learnt how to train as an athlete. I worked hard and I went to play the common wealth games. There I realised that able bodied have all the policies and disabled bodied have no policies, whereas internationally we are considered equal. Then it not only became a journey of sports but it also became a journey of activism in para sports.

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Nayak: How did you go about the activism?

I started writing reports, writing letters and started meeting bureaucrats and politicians and one fine day my voice was heard. I was made a member in the planning commission for the 5 years from 2012 to 2017, as a working group member and I worked on policies and made the policies changed and improvised for para sports. So para sports started getting included in training programme, it started getting equal funding, equal awards. It became a main stream sports even for cash awards. When the cash flow came there was an internal fight in the federation and the federation went in to a court case. It was a difficult time for me.Car Rally

Nayak: In 2009, you also participated in “Raid De Himalaya”, the toughest car rally in India. Can you tell us something about your experiences?

My participation in the Himalayan Car Rally 2009 was for two main reasons: firstly, driving has always been my passion and secondly, it was part of the activities of my mission, Ability beyond Disability. The one thing that surprised me was the fact that, in spite of so much growth in mechanical technology, driving possibilities for disabled people in our country are still very limited. Modifying vehicles to suit disabled persons driving is little known or accepted. Getting a driving license and customizing a vehicle of choice is a very lengthy process. Besides I was shocked to learn that till now, the world of motor sports was not open for physically disabled people.

Someone had to make the first move and push for inclusion of disabled people in the mainstream. That is why I decided to do this rally. It was a long ordeal of paper work, changing few rules and policies. I am happy every one at the motor sport federations worked hard for my inclusion.

The minus degree temperature and harsh roads were the main challenge for my spasticity and thrice operated spine. Lack of oxygen, high altitude sickness and long driving hours and distances made it all the more difficult. But the adrenaline rush of being able to rally alongside able-bodied persons made up for everything. I was awarded THE TRUE GRIT TROPHY, but the real happiness came from succeeding in opening doors for people with disabilities in the rally world.

Nayak: You brought some more laurels for India between 2010 to 2016 before your road to Rio.

In 2010 December, Asian games were held in China and I got a bronze medal in javelin throw becoming the first woman ever in athletics to pick up an Asian Game medal, but my performance also made me qualify for shotput. When the list for world athletics championship came out, I had actually qualified for shotput. I went to Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011, I got silver medal in shotput in world championship. That got me into the London Paralympics. I started training but because of the court cases and the internal fighting somewhere I got victimised into the politics of the federation and I could not go to London Paralympics. In the same year I got Arjuna award in 2012. At the time of Arjuna Awards, people said, “She has become an Arjuna awardee at 42 years, even if she had gone to the parlaympic, she would have only got the same award. So she got it even without participating in the Olympics. What more she could have asked for. In a way her journey is complete and she should now be happy and retire.” I said “I will not go without becoming a paralympian.”

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Nayak: How did you go about training for these competitions?

I started feeding my sports training via my motor sports. I started making some Limca records, doing some activities on motor sports front from where I would save money and invest it into my sports journey. I had a coach till 2014 on and off, suddenly in 2014 the coach found another girl, he thought she was better. I was dumped just 3 months before the Asian games in 2014. I suddenly had no coach.

That was the time I met a fitness and conditioning coach, Vaibhav Sirohi, who was a fitness trainer for tennis kids. I told him my distance is not improving, so he said “Mam, what you need is physiotherapy and fitness conditioning, not skills. Even if you try many times, Javelin will go far only if you have flexibility in your shoulder. Your shoulder rotation & flexibility in your joints is not good. I will give you fitness conditioning training and you need to hire a physiotherapist to loosen your neck as your parietal is tight due to surgery below the neck.” So I went back to a physio again. So Vikram came back. Combining Vikram and Vaibhav, I just had 2 months, that was the only difference I did. My javelin increased, I created a new Asian record and I got a silver medal, and my raking went to World No 2.

Nayak: Your road to Rio and the challenges faced.

When I came back I was very happy that I am going to be in Rio now. I had made a mark. In 2015 when the list came out javelin was not there, it was shotput. So I started looking for a coach and I came to Gurgaon and I met one coach who was a hammer throw coach. But the problem was that he was just a coach of able bodied. He didn’t know anything about my medical internal problem. For example, whenever you use your active muscles, the dead muscles contract. They go into stiffness. There was no releasing of spasm happening in that training. I needed more rest. Certain exercises he was making me do like able bodied, which got my cervical totally stiff and I started getting into a lot of pains and aches. My torso balance wasn’t there. He was making me lift heavy weight without stabilizing my body. So the posture and the neck balance were going all wrong. And I got fatigue headache. So my distance deteriorated instead of increasing. This was July 2015. By the time I had only one international event to qualify for shotput.

Incidentally, on my birthday, Vaibhav came to see me almost after an year’s gap. So looking at my condition, he said, “Mam, your posture is all wrong, your neck is protruding, there is lot of stiffness on your body etc. What are you doing”? I asked him for help to qualify for my Rio Paralympic as this was my last chance. So again the repair therapy started under Vaibhav Sirohi. He sat down with my physio. So this was fitness training in combination with advice from the physio. My management was done by the physio like ultra sound, massage and other modalities were used. As they increased weight in conditioning and fitness of the muscle, the pain management was simultaneously done by the physio. We realised that if my spasticity is not reduced, my movement of upper body will also be not good. So the physio started doing my spastic management. Upper body was being managed with the physio’s advice by my conditioning coach. Another thing which was introduced was the right diet. That is also an integral part of my change of regime and my journey to Rio.

Nayak: How does it feel to be the first Indian woman to win a Paralympic medal?

It felt very nice, it was definitely a proud moment which led me not just to the fame, glory, cash award but also led me to receive a Padmashree Award from the President of India. The Prime minister himself applauded me, twitted me, he speaks about me and everything nice happened. I still cannot believe it. To become the first Indian woman to win a Paralympic medal is an honour and it is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I hope my journey and the medal can serve as an inspiration for differently-abled Indian women to break out from their social boundaries and pursue their dreams.

Nayak: You wear multitude of hats—a wife, a mother, an athlete, a biker, a motivational speaker. Which role you love the most?

Being a mother. I have two daughters Devika and Ambika. Being a mother is my motivation. I wanted to live a life where my children don’t remember me as a handicapped sad person, so they really motivated me to be a good mother. I just wanted to be a part of their every activity; I wanted to be looked up by them. I want them to depend on me.

Nayak: Who do you attribute your success to?

I would attribute it to the love for outdoors, because when I was told that I would die in a room it just didn’t work for me. I am an outdoorsy person and India is not used to seeing people on wheelchair as living a regular life so I was going to change the entire concept and definition of a wheelchair women. I did not want to be called a patient all of my life because I sit on a wheelchair. I wanted my wheelchair to turn in to my strength, my power and become a true identity in a different strength. People call me wheelchair bound, I say I am “Wheelchair—liberated”.

Nayak: Tell us something about your mission ‘Ability beyond Disability.’

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When I started life afresh on a wheelchair after spinal cord damage, I had to undergo serious physiotherapy. When I interacted with people like myself, I realized they all felt a lack of direction. Most people think that life is restricted due to paralysis. For women, it is worse! Lucky to have full family back up and education on my side, I decided to give hope to those who were paralyzed.

I started doing various outdoor activities. I call myself to be on this mission—Ability beyond Disability. My aim is to change the stereotypical image of wheelchair users that people generally have and sensitize society toward my type of disability. The media is the best way to reach out to maximum people. Coverage of the activities I do help in convincing paraplegics at motivational workshops that a normal life is possible even on a wheelchair!

Nayak: Did your army background help things further in your journey or made it difficult for you at times?

I am glad you asked me that because the amount of positive it has, it also has a lot of negatives. Positive is, definitely it was an educated background, it was people who had a progressive thinking, it was people who were used to fighting adversities. But at the same time, the deterrent was that it gave me not much of an exposure to the outside world. I had to literally come out of a close cantonment secured world to explore my opportunities. Honestly, when I decided to do that, I realised that the money we were earning in army was not really enough. This journey needed a different kind of expenses and army’s salary wasn’t enough. I had to raise funds because it was easily an expense of not less than one lac per month. It was more challenging for me to come from a good family and ask for money. For me my education, my age and my personal status was the biggest barrier.

Nayak: What are your current engagements and activities?Deepa Malik fashion runway engagements..(laughs). There are a plenty of them. I am a brand ambassador for Government initiatives like “JAGO GRAHAK JAGO”, “BETI BACHAO BETI PADHAO”, brand ambassador for election commission, a brand ambassador for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Council). I am also representing an initiative called “wheeling happiness” and “smile train” foundation. Wheeling happiness is my daughter’s foundation which is working towards the rehabilitation and emotional counselling and guiding for various outdoor activities to the physically challenged. Smile Train is an international children’s charity that provides 100%-free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children in 85+ countries, giving them a normal life.

Nayak: What is the immediate next thing coming up?

I am a member of the Team India who is leaving on 11th July for World Championship in London and hope to do well there.

Nayak: How was the support of your husband in your journey?

The only support I got from him is he was understanding enough for me to pursue the journey of my dream. I have not taken financial assistant from him, not even a single rupee and I have not demanded his time, what I have done is created my own journey , my own infrastructure, fought for policies, earned my cash rewards and reinvested in my sports. I have fought with Haryana Govt. for 3 years and got a job so now I am a full-fledged government employee in Haryana Govt. Then I created this vertical of motivational speeches. I learnt how to do that with the corporates. I get my pay through that. So this is a very individual journey and I am very proud of it.

Nayak: If we go by the “best is yet to come” dictum, what would that be for you?

I would like to change the colour of the Olympic medal to gold in Tokyo in 2020. I would turn 50 in the same year and it would be perfect to celebrate my golden year with a gold medal. I just pray to Almighty to keep the tumours away, keep me in good health and keep the inspiration going so that I can deliver that.

Nayak: What is the message to the other people with disability?

What they certainly need to do is to accept and to adapt. Half the times I have seen people live in denial. Most of the time is spent in lamenting. They are so preoccupied by feeling sorry for their disabilities to forget their abilities hidden in them. So what I say is accept. Acceptance leads you in a positive state of mind and adapting means you learn the disability. You learn the alternative things you can do with disability.

Nayak: What changes have you seen in the disability sector with respect to attitude and awareness?

There is definitely a lot of change but a lot has to be done still. The media and Internet have brought in a lot of awareness. One thing, which I have learnt, is people look at you the way you look at yourself. The day I gained confidence in myself, I realized the society also became ready to accept me. Once your surroundings know that you are not going to be taken for granted, they don’t. It has been nearly 18 years and I have seen a tremendous change in people’s attitude towards me.

Nayak: Has there been a change in the Government’s outlook towards differently abled sportsperson ? If yes, in what way?

Yes. We are definitely part of main stream sports now. We are part of all the sporting policies of the government. We are also given equal opportunities for training and participation and foreign exposure. They have declared a new special disability centre for us in Gandhinagar. We were included in the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme for the first time where we were given equal amount of funding to train. We were spoken of & Twitted by the Prime Minister of India which clearly shows that the order of the day is inclusivity. I have been made a part of all major government initiatives. Yes, as fas as the government is concerned and policies are concerned there is a tremendous change.

Nayak: What more need to be done in this direction by the Government?

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We have to definitely have a better infrastructure that is more disability friendly and is more accessible. Most useful thing that has happened is para sports is being included in the CBSE curriculum, which means all the Kendriya Vidyalayas and all the CBSE schools will have a talk of Para Olympic which in any way denotes inclusive education.

Government is doing its bit, but the citizen should also do their bit. They need to accept para sports as main stream. For example, in the adverting world, why are we not getting the opportunity to do the commercials for various products like other Olympians? I am appreciated at all the social initiatives but not commercial initiatives. We are only a means of inspiration but not meant for earning like our other able bodied counterparts.

Nayak: You were recently being treated by Joseph Nice for a hip condition. How has been your experience working with Joseph Nice?

She is very interesting to know. First and foremost it breaks the myth that women don’t make good physiotherapists. Secondly, I think technique is more important than strength. Because I have such severe spasticity in the left limb, I never felt that a woman could handle it. I went to her with a very severe backache. In six weeks I was back to square one.

Nayak: Please share some life lesson from sports.

Definitely a Healthy mind lives in a healthy body, Sports gives you a very healthy competitive spirit. You are not competing out of jealously or malicious thoughts. There is a sportsmanship spirit behind it. It is also something that has given me the feeling of giving something back to the country.

Nayak: Three most important roles played by physio?

• Physiotherapy has probably been the biggest pillar.
• When physiotherapy was not there I was nobody, when I paid attention to it, I became everything.
• Every time I have got serious physiotherapy in my programme I have been a winner.

Nayak: Your advice to physiotherapist of India and the scope of career as a sports physio?

I think there is a lot of scope. Physios are an integral part of every successful sports person. Your profession can never be just a profession. It is something with a cause, has humanitarian values and a personal connection you all connect. So somebody is directly dependent on you for betterment of his or her life. It has a very human connect. You are not talking to a machine or not working on computers. Your profession is directly putting you through a human to human connect. There has to be a lot of patience, a lot of positivity, a lot of inspiration and motivation. A physio always has to be a very motivated and a very smiling person.

Come whatever may, it can get challenging I guess. And another advice I would like to give to the physios is that keep your attention to your own health also because most of the day you are in a awkward position. Your body is equally stressed up as body of the people. So as much their knowledge they apply on their patients, identical amount has to be paid to keep their own body fit. It’s a profession of fitness so every physio has a moral duty be fit.

This story is part of a series of articles published as an exclusive editorial exchange between PhysioTimes (based in India) and ABILITY Magazine

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