CRIP­PLED BY THE MUM­BAI AT­TACK.

but I bat­tled back to run a marathon

Friday - - Front Page -

Glanc­ing at my watch, I blinked. It was al­most 10pm. “Gosh, it’s late,” I thought, star­ing at my friends. The six of us were hav­ing din­ner at The Oberoi ho­tel in Mum­bai, In­dia. We were on a three­week once-in-a-life­time trip from Canada and the US. We usu­ally ate to­gether at 8.30pm but tonight we’d been de­layed.

We were part of a 25-strong med­i­ta­tion group and that day had been es­pe­cially long – but ex­cit­ing be­cause of our visit to an ashram.

I was tired, but happy. Over the past few days I had vis­ited some of Mum­bai’s breath­tak­ing land­marks in­clud­ing the Gate­way of In­dia and a shrine. Now, look­ing around the Tif­fin restau­rant, I couldn’t stop smil­ing. It had been a per­fect day.

We – Michael Rud­der, Sandy Jones*, He­len Con­nelly, Alan Scherr and his 13-year-old daugh­ter Naomi – were chat­ting while wait­ing for our food.

I was hun­gry so as soon my quail ar­rived I took a bite, then paused. I heard what sounded like fire­crack­ers go­ing off. “Did you hear that?” I said, turn­ing to Michael.

“Yes,” he replied, look­ing wor­ried. “It sounds like gun­fire.”

I’m from Nashville, Ten­nessee in the south of the US where ev­ery­one has a ri­fle and goes hunt­ing, so I knew what gun­fire sounded like. I was sure th­ese were fire­crack­ers but Michael wasn’t so sure. “I’m go­ing to check it out,” he said.

A few min­utes later he was back. “The staff said not to worry about it,” he said. “It’s just lo­cal hooligans act­ing up.”

But as he sat down a round of gun­fire ex­ploded all around us. There was no mis­tak­ing it this time – th­ese were shots, not fire­crack­ers and they were right next to us. Be­fore I could even re­act, two men ap­peared, hold­ing ma­chine guns, and be­gan shoot­ing at the din­ers around us.

They were young, with baby faces, and looked like they were just out for a stroll. But they were mow­ing down peo­ple, some at point-blank range, as they walked. I didn’t have time to be fright­ened. My sur­vival in­stinct

kicked in. “Ev­ery­one, un­der the ta­ble. Now!” I yelled. All of my friends got un­der it, ex­cept Michael.

He was so stunned that he couldn’t move. “I’ve been shot,” he said. And then, “I’ve been shot again.”

“Michael, get down,” I or­dered, be­fore Sandy pulled him to the floor, un­der­neath the ta­ble.

For a mo­ment, I thought it was a hit and the killers were com­ing af­ter some­one in par­tic­u­lar be­cause we were in a five-star ho­tel. I be­lieved they weren’t tar­get­ing us and that all we had to do was get un­der the ta­ble, out of the way and af­ter they had killed their tar­get they would leave.

It was ob­vi­ous from the con­tin­u­ous gun­fire that there was more than one gun­man. And then sud­denly, I felt a pinch in my right arm and knew I had been hit.

Naomi was scream­ing and Alan was call­ing out her name to let her know that he was right there. He­len was fac­ing me be­tween Alan and Naomi, pray­ing.

I got hit three times – once in the right leg, once through my right arm, and one bul­let grazed the right side of my neck. Sandy was also shot in her lower back. Naomi was scream­ing the en­tire time out of fear. She was in­con­solable but her dad con­tin­ued to try to calm her.

I could hear the gun­men walk­ing. Then they’d stop and fire be­fore mov­ing on. I couldn’t hear the moans and groans of those be­ing hit be­cause the gun­men were fir­ing con­tin­u­ously and throw­ing hand grenades.

We were prob­a­bly there for a to­tal of 20 min­utes, un­til fi­nally – while we were still cow­er­ing un­der the ta­ble – I heard the gun­men leave.

I wanted to get out and run to safety but didn’t know where the gun­men were or if they’d re­turn. Then I heard shots – they were back.

“Play dead,” I whis­pered to my friends. But Naomi was scream­ing and Alan was try­ing to calm her down by say­ing her name over and over. All the while we stayed un­der the ta­ble. Al­though I was in shock, I was clear-minded and knew not to scream, talk or move – just to pre­tend I was dead. But Naomi needed to stop scream­ing, for all our sakes.

“Alan,” I said firmly, reach­ing out and touch­ing the back of his neck. “Play dead.” He ex­changed a look with me that let me know that he un­der­stood.

Then I felt a burn on my neck and blood gush­ing. Alan had been shot, the bul­lets rip­ping through his head. I as­sumed Naomi was ei­ther dead or had passed out as she had stopped scream­ing.

I lis­tened for the gun­men to leave, then looked around. A chef opened the kitchen door where he had been hiding. “If you want to live, you’d bet­ter come now,” he said.

Sandy and He­len ran to the door, but blood was gush­ing from my thigh and I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t even drag my­self be­cause of the gun­shot wound to my right arm. “Drag me,” I pleaded and the chef came out and pulled me by my wrists into the kitchen. Michael had passed out and couldn’t move ei­ther so he didn’t make it to the kitchen at that point. In­stead he later fol­lowed my blood trail to the door.

Mean­time the rest of us hid in the kitchen for around 20 min­utes. Three kitchen work­ers were in the room with Sandy, He­len and I. They tried to bar­ri­cade us in, us­ing a chair, but the noise drew the gun­men’s at­ten­tion. At first they shot at the door so we all lay down. Then they re­turned and lobbed a sin­gle hand grenade through the ser­vice win­dow. It landed about 30cm from my face and I was sure it would go off at any mo­ment.

“Leave,’’ I shouted to the oth­ers, ex­pect­ing it to ex­plode, but for­tu­nately it was a dud and noth­ing hap­pened.

Two of the staff mem­bers then scooped me up while the rest of them ran down­stairs to the ser­vice exit. It was locked and the kitchen man­ager who had the key was ly­ing dead on the restau­rant floor. The chef who’d dragged me to safety threw him­self against the door again and again and even­tu­ally it opened.

We emerged on to the streets of Mum­bai to see peo­ple run­ning around scared, and smoke ris­ing from the ho­tel. One of the ho­tel work­ers flagged down a cab. Sandy and I got into one and the driver took us to Bom­bay Hos­pi­tal. He­len jumped into another cab.

It soon be­came very clear that ter­ror­ists were tar­get­ing Mum­bai. I didn’t know why, I was just glad to be alive. Through­out the whole in­ci­dent I didn’t cry, I was in shock, I sup­pose.

At the hos­pi­tal, medics told me I’d been shot three times and needed surgery. As I lay, wait­ing to go to the­atre, I could still hear all the chaos out­side. The gun own­er­ship laws are quite strict in Mum­bai so the doc­tors and nurses were un­pre­pared for the ex­tent of the wounded they faced.

While they tried to cope with the scores of in­jured, news of the ex­tent of what was go­ing on fil­tered through to us. The at­tacks were still go­ing on, and the Oberoi Ho­tel where we were stay­ing wasn’t the only tar­get. Sev­eral ar­eas of Mum­bai had been attacked in­clud­ing The Taj Ma­hal Palace Ho­tel, the train sta­tion and a hos­pi­tal. There were two

gun­men in our ho­tel alone, both of who died on the third day.

I didn’t know this at the time but the in­ci­dents were all part of 12 co­or­di­nated shoot­ing and bomb­ing at­tacks that lasted a to­tal of four days. Mil­i­tants from a Pak­istan-based ter­ror group planned and di­rected the as­saults, which were car­ried out by 10 young men, re­ports said.

By the time the at­tacks ended on Satur­day, Novem­ber 29, 2008, 166 peo­ple were dead and more than 300 peo­ple were wounded. Nine of the gun­men were shot dead by se­cu­rity forces. One was cap­tured and later sen­tenced to death.

But right then I was ly­ing in the hos­pi­tal wear­ing a white head shawl that was soaked in Alan’s blood and em­bed­ded with shrap­nel. Some­one al­lowed me to use his mo­bile phone so I could call my hus­band, Hugo, back home in Ken­tucky, US, where he was cel­e­brat­ing Thanks­giv­ing with his fam­ily.

“Hugo, we’ve been attacked,’’ I said as soon as I heard his voice. “Alan and Naomi are dead. Sandy and I were shot and we’re in Bom­bay Hos­pi­tal.’’

He sounded sur­pris­ingly calm but I later learnt that he col­lapsed af­ter my phone call. He got on the last avail­able flight to Mum­bai be­fore the Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties stopped aero­planes fly­ing there, and ar­rived on the third night af­ter the shoot­ing. In the mean­time I had surgery to re­move the bul­lets from my leg and was in the in­ten­sive care unit, and un­con­scious. I had lost three units of blood. Se­dated with pain med­i­ca­tion, I would sleep for hours, think­ing I had dreamed the whole thing. Then I would wake up in the hos­pi­tal and un­der­stand it was real.

I couldn’t feel my whole leg. I could wig­gle my toes and there was shoot­ing pain in my calf, but from my knee up­wards noth­ing.

I flew back to the US with my leg wrapped in two cloth ban­dages. the knee and that the kneecap was pulled from my leg.

I couldn’t have surgery right away due to the na­ture of the in­jury as my leg would have come com­pletely apart, so I was put in a pros­the­sis that I wore from my hip to my toe and had months of trac­tion and phys­i­cal ther­apy.

The long jour­ney to well­ness had be­gun. Sadly over time – for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons in­clud­ing the fact that I was too in­jured to travel to Vir­ginia where they were from – I be­came es­tranged from Michael, He­len and Sandy so I didn’t keep up with their lives.

I fo­cused on heal­ing, on get­ting bet­ter and train­ing for the Bos­ton Marathon. I had al­ways wanted to run it and I had been on the tread­mill at the ho­tel the morn­ing be­fore the at­tacks pre­par­ing to do just that. I had run nine marathons be­fore I was in­jured.

I did phys­io­ther­apy ev­ery other day. I used ul­tra­sound and an ex­ter­nal heater to try to stim­u­late the blood and nerves in my leg to en­cour­age the feel­ing to re­turn, while my body was pre­pared for surgery.

A cus­tom-de­signed plas­tic at­tach­ment was also built and

‘I’d been on the tread­mill the morn­ing be­fore the at­tacks pre­par­ing for the Bos­ton Marathon’

The doc­tors didn’t know my leg was shat­tered. From their X-ray, they thought the fe­mur bone was just chipped so that’s why my leg was only wrapped. Also, it was to help with the pos­si­ble swelling from fly­ing.

The part they thought was chipped bone was ac­tu­ally shrap­nel from the bul­let. Once I got home two days later, I had another X-ray and then it was dis­cov­ered that my leg was com­pletely shat­tered from the hip to

strapped to my limb to help me move around as much as pos­si­ble. There was a hinge at my an­kle, one at the knee and another at my hip. I had to wear a thick long sock to hold ev­ery­thing in place.

For many months I could only get around with the aid of a wheel­chair or a walker. My hus­band had to help me with ev­ery­thing. There were cer­tain mile­stones. Even­tu­ally I could

‘I’ve looked death in the face and I no longer live my life in fear. I love more. I feel more’

use my up­per body to get into the wheel­chair by my­self. Then I could fi­nally walk with my cane.

My main surgery was sched­uled for Septem­ber, 2009, to have the car­ti­lage in my right knee scraped out be­fore the kneecap – which had be­come loose when I’d been dragged across the restau­rant floor – was reat­tached to my bone.

On the af­ter­noon af­ter the op­er­a­tion I was sit­ting on the couch at home with my leg propped up when my hus­band said, “I think I need to move out for a while to clear my head; maybe a trial sep­a­ra­tion.”

I was stunned. I thought we were closer than ever. For 10 months he’d done ev­ery­thing for me – washed, clothed and fed me, helped me lift my leg when I couldn’t do it my­self.

Now – just a few days shy of our sixth wed­ding an­niver­sary – he wanted to sep­a­rate.

I guess Hugo felt he’d lost his ac­tive wife who got up at 5am ev­ery day to jog, cook break­fast and then spend the day run­ning a holis­tic health cen­tre. Now he was lum­bered with a woman who had been told by her doc­tors she may never be able to walk unas­sisted again.

Plus, he said he wanted to have chil­dren, which we’d pre­vi­ously agreed we didn’t want. In my mid40s that was some­thing I couldn’t give him.

The news hit me harder than the ter­ror­ist at­tack. When the men in Mum­bai shot at me, it wasn’t per­sonal. They’d been brain­washed by ter­ror­ists to strike fear and ter­ror in In­dia, I told my­self. But Hugo leav­ing me was per­sonal. I was dev­as­tated.

Our di­vorce be­came fi­nal a year later. He mar­ried his preg­nant girl­friend a few days shy of what would have been our sev­enth wed­ding an­niver­sary.

It broke my heart but I had to look for­ward not back. So I fo­cused on get­ting bet­ter to run the Bos­ton Marathon. My doc­tor had a ‘wait and see’ at­ti­tude about my progress. While he was con­fi­dent that I would be able to walk again, he said, “You may never be able to run.’’

I looked at him and thought, “You have no idea who you’re deal­ing with.” A holis­tic medicine ad­vo­cate, I be­lieve that you can heal your­self and over­come any­thing. “I will do it,” I vowed.

When I be­gan train­ing I was al­most 16kg over­weight and could barely climb the stairs unas­sisted. But I fo­cused and worked hard to build up my mus­cles and lose the ex­cess fat I had put on as a re­sult of the steroids and pain med­i­ca­tion.

I ate a diet of or­ganic food, and worked with a per­sonal trainer.

By spring 2011 I was run­ning an 11-minute mile – far worse than my per­sonal best of eight min­utes a few years ear­lier. I was too slow to qual­ify for the Bos­ton Marathon. (Women in my age cat­e­gory have to fin­ish in four hours.) But I was de­ter­mined to run it and so I posted a video on YouTube, plead­ing my case. Some­one from Adidas saw it and wrote to the Bos­ton Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion ask­ing for them to give me a chance. They did.

It was emo­tional pulling on my bib. It had taken me so long to get to this point. As I ran, I thought of Alan and Naomi, say­ing with ev­ery step, “I’m do­ing this for you.”

It took me 5 hours and 20 min­utes to fin­ish. I was so proud of my­self.

The other day I said to some­one, “The ter­ror­ists kind of did me a favour.’’ It sounds weird but it’s true. I have learned so much about my­self since it hap­pened. I have emerged stronger. My friend and his daugh­ter died in front of me. My hus­band left me and oth­ers thought that I would never walk again, let alone run. But I sur­vived. I am proof that you can do any­thing you set your mind to.

I still have phys­i­cal re­minders of the at­tack – nerve dam­age in two of my fin­gers and two of my toes. But I’ve looked death in the face and I no longer live my life in fear. I love more. I feel more.

Last year – shortly af­ter the bomb­ings at the 2013 Bos­ton Marathon – I re­leased the sec­ond edi­tions of the two books I wrote about my ex­pe­ri­ence back in 2011. I ded­i­cated one of those books – For

The Love Of Run­ning – to those killed dur­ing that event. I found it hard to imag­ine that the Bos­ton Marathon – the same race that was such an im­por­tant part of my heal­ing process fol­low­ing the Mum­bai ter­ror at­tacks – would it­self be the tar­get of ter­ror­ist at­tacks. So, as the April an­niver­sary of the Bos­ton bomb­ing nears, it reminds me not to take a sin­gle breath for granted be­cause your life can be over in a sec­ond. Rü­drani Devi, 49, from Ten­nessee, US, has writ­ten two books about her ex­pe­ri­ence –

Soul Sur­vivor and ForThe Love Of Run­ning.

The up­mar­ket Taj Ma­hal Palace Ho­tel (pic­tured) and The Oberoi were among ter­ror­ist tar­gets

Rü­drani Devi was one of hun­dreds shot in the Novem­ber 2008 ter­ror at­tacks which killed two of her friends. She was told she would never run again but she re­fused to give up

I be­lieve you can heal your­self and over­come any­thing

I proved my doc­tor wrong by run­ning again

Sadly, my mar­riage did not sur­vive the at­tack

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.