“THE MEDAL AL­LOWED ME TO BE HEARD”

India Today - - GOOD NEWS - DEEPA MA­LIK, 46 First In­dian woman to win a medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, a sil­ver in shot put F53 cat­e­gory —As told to Ur­sila Ali

Feel­ing sorry for those who could not see be­yond her dis­abil­ity, Deepa Ma­lik has made it her life’s mis­sion to prove them wrong. She has four Limca World Records (three for mo­tor­bik­ing, one for swim­ming) to her credit, she is an award-win­ning res­tau­ra­teur, a mo­ti­va­tional speaker and mother of two daugh­ters.

At seven, my first tu­mour was di­ag­nosed in the spinal col­umn and op­er­ated upon. For the next two and a half years, I was bedrid­den, scared to go to school in a wheel­chair. But my par­ents trans­formed these days into a time of learn­ing, giv­ing me a strong dose of self-be­lief and self-es­teem. Soon the shy Deepa be­came a bold, out­doorsy kid, play­ing bas­ket­ball in the col­lege team, rep­re­sent­ing Ra­jasthan in cricket, bor­row­ing bikes from boys and com­ing to be known as ‘Biker Deepa’.

The turn­ing point in my life also came at a very try­ing time. My hus­band was fight­ing in Kargil in 1999 when I was di­ag­nosed with the spinal tu­mour again. The doc­tor told me I could ei­ther live with the tu­mour and walk, or get rid of it, live longer but lose all sen­sa­tion in my body, trunk down­ward. As a mother of two girls, I wasn’t ready to give up just yet. It was hard to adapt to the new body, the wheel­chair and the phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity. In the next 14 years, I would get 183 stitches be­tween the shoul­der blades and three spinal tu­mour surg­eries. But fac­ing the pity of so­ci­ety, their queries of how I would man­age to be a mother with my dis­abil­ity made me re­alise that peo­ple could not see be­yond sym­pa­thy and look at the courage I showed in the face of ad­ver­sity. One day, a school teacher checked the tiffins of my daugh­ters to see if their mother could pro­vide them with a de­cent lunch. That was when I de­cided to give so­ci­ety much-needed shock treat­ment, to tell them that dis­abil­ity doesn’t mean hav­ing to spend the rest of your life in a room, wait­ing to die. The sec­ond phase of my life started with a small de­liv­ery ser­vice in the army can­ton­ment area in Ahmed­na­gar, Ma­ha­rash­tra, with the help of re­tired army cooks. The ven­ture soon turned into an award-win­ning restau­rant and suc­cess­ful cater­ing ser­vice—Dees Place. But to me, this wasn’t enough. I de­cided to take up bik­ing yet again. It wasn’t an im­pos­si­ble task, all I had to do was gain strength in my up­per body. I un­der­took a rig­or­ous six-week hy­drother­apy re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme at the In­dian Spinal In­juries Cen­tre in Delhi, learn­ing the prac­ti­cal way to han­dle my dis­abil­ity. From float­ing in wa­ter to swim­ming laps, it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the par­a­lympic committee came to me, of­fer­ing me a chance to represent In­dia in swim­ming.

At 36, I be­came a na­tional sportsper­son. From swim­ming to be­com­ing a javelin thrower to fi­nally win­ning sil­ver for the coun­try in shot put at the Paralympics, the com­bi­na­tion of a hunger to win and habit of giv­ing it my all worked in my favour ev­ery time. As for the bike, I fi­nally bought it, strug­gled to get a driver’s li­cence (a fight that took 19 months) and then set a record of be­ing the first dis­abled woman to cross nine high al­ti­tude passes in nine days on the high­est mo­torable pass in the world.

To the naysay­ers, I want to say, Deepa is still rocking and happy. I am elated to be the first In­dian woman to win a medal at the Paralympics, but the fact that it took 70 years and a 46-year-old woman to do so tells us a lot about the lack of in­fras­truc­ture for dis­abled sports in our coun­try. We need to move on from the stereo­typ­i­cal way dis­abil­ity and dis­abil­ity sports are viewed to in­vest­ing in the po­ten­tial dis­abled peo­ple have.”

“The Par­a­lympic sil­ver isn’t just a medal, it is a move­ment. It has helped peo­ple see dis­abil­ity sports dif­fer­ently.”

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