Te­jas Jaishankar beat all the odds to be­come In­dia’s strong­est man.

Doc­tors be­lieved Te­jas Jaishankar wouldn’t sur­vive his in­juries from a hor­rific ac­ci­dent, but he healed his body— and mind— through ex­er­cise

Friday - - Contents -

Te­jas Jaishankar smiles as he looks around his well-equipped gym in the posh Vas­ant Vi­har area of In­dia’s cap­i­tal, New Delhi, be­fore set­tling down on a ma­chine to do a set of bench presses. He fixes the weight at 80kg – 2kg heav­ier than him­self – then, ly­ing flat on his back, he lifts the weight smoothly 30 times. He hardly breaks into a sweat. Next the 22-year-old jumps up, strolls over to the bar­bell, loads it with 140kg of iron plates, and cleanly and ef­fort­lessly raises it above his head, be­fore drop­ping it back down. “I did that 23 times in one minute at the In­dia’s Strong­est Man Cham­pi­onship in March this year to win the gold,” he smiles.

Not bad for some­one who just two years ago had 42 frac­tures along his spine and ribcage, three shat­tered ver­te­brae and sev­eral other in­ter­nal in­juries fol­low­ing a hor­rific road ac­ci­dent that doc­tors thought he wouldn’t sur­vive. If he did, they were con­vinced he would never walk again. “I’m so happy to be alive and walk­ing and talk­ing, es­pe­cially af­ter I ac­tu­ally over­heard doc­tors say that the chances of me re­cov­er­ing or even sur­viv­ing were slim. In fact, they

gave me just a few hours to live,” says Te­jas. “While I lay in that hos­pi­tal bed lis­ten­ing to the doc­tors dis­cussing my im­mi­nent death, I re­solved that if I did man­age to sur­vive, I’d usemy ex­pe­ri­ence in phys­i­cal train­ing to re­build my body.”

His life-chang­ing ac­ci­dent hap­pened on June 17, 2012, af­ter the busi­ness man­age­ment grad­u­ate set off on his mo­tor­bike to the house of his best friend, Sukanya Ban­er­jee, to wish her a happy birth­day. He was cruis­ing along, when a pedes­trian ran across the road. “To avoid hit­ting him, I braked but, un­for­tu­nately, the bike skid­ded and I fell off,” he says. Be­fore Te­jas could get up he was run over by a Toy­ota In­nova SUV that was speed­ing down the road.

“Although I knew a ve­hi­cle had hit me, I don’t know why but I didn’t feel any pain at that time,” he re­calls. Te­jas strug­gled to get up, but then, in­cred­i­bly, was hit again as the driver of the SUV pan­icked and in try­ing to check out what had hap­pened, re­versed his ve­hi­cle over Te­jas’s up­per body a sec­ond time.

“This time I got wedged be­tween the rear tyre and the ve­hi­cle’s chas­sis and I was dragged for about 15 me­tres,” Te­jas says.

It was only when some on­look­ers started scream­ing and ges­tur­ing that the driver re­alised some­thing was wrong and stopped. Step­ping out he saw Te­jas’s man­gled body ly­ing un­der his car.

“What sur­prises me is that I still wasn’t in pain,” he says. “I guess my body had gone into shock.”

With the help of an on­looker, the driver dragged Te­jas out from un­der the ve­hi­cle, un­aware that he had life-threat­en­ing in­juries. “I re­mem­ber them putting me on to the back seat of the car and the driver rac­ing off to the near­est hos­pi­tal, just a few kilo­me­tres away,” he says.

“I was awake and fished out my mo­bile phone from my jeans’ pocket and found it was still work­ing. I called Sukanya to tell her that I’d had an ac­ci­dent and was be­ing taken to hos­pi­tal. I then called another good friend, Ma­hen­dra Pratap, and gave him the same news. ”

At the hos­pi­tal en­trance, the car driver tried to help Te­jas into a wheel­chair, but the young man brushed him aside, say­ing that he didn’t need it. “Hold­ing on to the shoul­der of the SUV driver, I walked about 25 me­tres to the emer­gency sec­tion of the hos­pi­tal,” he says. “Sur­pris­ingly, I had very few ex­ter­nal in­juries, so there were no blood stains on my clothes. In fact ex­cept for a mi­nor bruise on my left arm, there was no sign of any in­jury.

“By now, though, I had be­gun to feel a throb­bing pain all over my body and guessed I’d sus­tained some in­ter­nal in­juries.”

Be­cause of the lack of any vis­i­ble in­juries, the doc­tors didn’t con­sider Te­jas an emer­gency case, he says. “When I started com­plain­ing about the pain I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing all overmy body, one doc­tor did a reg­u­lar check up and said that I prob­a­bly had a headache! And it wouldn’t even re­quire a painkiller, he said.”

The driver pleaded with the doc­tors to at­tend to Te­jas. “The pain was slowly be­com­ing acute but I was still awake and spot­ted Sukanya and Ma­hen­dra rush­ing in,” he says.

Sukanya was alarmed when she saw her friend. “The first thing Te­jas said on see­ing me was ‘Some birth­day you’re hav­ing.’ He then smiled and closed his eyes. I could see that his body was bent at odd an­gles and he was clearly in pain. Not want­ing to dis­turb him, I asked the driver what had hap­pened and was shocked to learn the de­tails of the ac­ci­dent. In fact it made me ner­vous to see Te­jas so calm.”

Sukanya im­me­di­ately called the Army hos­pi­tal – Te­jas’s fa­ther Ma­jor Gen­eral G Jaishankar is an of­fi­cer in the In­dian Army – which was a 30-minute drive away, and told them that they wanted to bring Te­jas there for treat­ment.

Once the Army hos­pi­tal agreed, they rushed him there on the floor of a van as they didn’t want to wait for an am­bu­lance.

Te­jas un­der­went tests in­clud­ing an MRI, CT and ul­tra­sound scans. “It was only then that we re­alised the se­ri­ous­ness of his con­di­tion,” says Sukanya.

Te­jas adds, “By now, my en­tire body was frozen in a very pe­cu­liar, con­torted po­si­tion and I was un­able to move even my head. It was as though I was paral­ysed.”

He was moved to the ICU and placed un­der ob­ser­va­tion.

“In­ci­den­tally, I was aware of all that was hap­pen­ing to me be­cause I was not se­dated as I had not com­plained of se­vere pain,” he says. “I could over­hear the doc­tors dis­cussing my con­di­tion. One of them was say­ing ‘no one sur­vives with such in­juries’.”

Af­ter much dis­cus­sion, the panel of doc­tors de­cided against op­er­at­ing on Te­jas im­me­di­ately as many of the in­juries were close to his heart and lungs.

“I was put on the DI [death im­mi­nent] list, as they felt that with so many frac­tures along my spine I would die any mo­ment.”

But de­spite his con­di­tion, Te­jas was op­ti­mistic – and apolo­getic for the trou­ble the ac­ci­dent had caused. Says Sukanya, “When my fa­ther came to see him in the hos­pi­tal, Te­jas ac­tu­ally apol­o­gised to him for ru­in­ing his Sun­day! The same evening, he told me, ‘I know you have gone through a lot to­day. In case you want to break down, you can do so now!’ The way he said that was rather amus­ing. De­spite all the pain he was go­ing through, he was full of fun and cheer. And he was ex­tremely pos­i­tive – sure that noth­ing would hap­pen to him and that he would sur­vive.”

Mean­while, Sukanya got in touch with Te­jas’s fam­ily in Sikkim, and they be­gan mak­ing plans to rush to Delhi to be with him. Un­for­tu­nately, bad weather and landslides had

blocked roads and with flights can­celled, it took the fam­ily three days to reach his bedside.

Te­jas’s mother Reji and sis­ter Kanchana were ex­pect­ing the worst, but were re­lieved to see him smil­ing and talk­ing, although he was un­able to move. “By the time we reached the hos­pi­tal, Te­jas had been shifted to the hos­pi­tal’s gen­eral ward,’’ says Kanchana, a grade 12 stu­dent. “Ex­cept for painkillers, no other med­i­ca­tion was be­ing ad­min­is­tered to him. Bed rest was ad­vised.”

Although he was un­able to move, Te­jas was up­beat. “I was mak­ing the most of my ‘sec­ond life’,” he ex­plains. “I will never for­get the look on the doc­tors’ faces when I was smil­ing while be­ing wheeled into in­ten­sive care. They were puz­zled that I had not only sur­vived the ac­ci­dent, but was able to re­main pos­i­tive.”

The time he spent in the hos­pi­tal, he says, was the most dif­fi­cult be­cause he had to sim­ply lie in bed. But just three weeks af­ter the ac­ci­dent, X-rays re­vealed a near mir­a­cle: all his frac­tures were heal­ing. “I be­lieve in the power of pos­i­tive think­ing,” he says. “I re­fused to be­lieve that I would end up bedrid­den and kept will­ing my mind to get my body in ac­tion and make it healthy quickly.”

Two months later, Te­jas was taken off the DI list. “Dur­ing those months, doc­tors ad­vised me not to get out of the bed, but I de­cided I had to move so I would go to the bath­room and try walk­ing around a bit. I was in pain, but I did not al­low it to over­whelm my body. In fact, I even started do­ing some mi­nor ex­er­cises right from the hos­pi­tal bed to en­cour­age my body to get bet­ter quickly,” he says. “I think the only rea­son I sur­vived the ac­ci­dent was be­cause I was in such good shape. I’d been ex­er­cis­ing all the time for two years prior to that. It meant my body could bounce back.”

Te­jas’s in­ter­est in strength train­ing be­gan when he was in his early teens and went on an Army train­ing ses­sion. Af­ter­wards, he re­searched the topic on­line and cre­ated his own train­ing pro­gramme. “I would spend a lot of time in the gym and work­ing out, main­tain­ing my body and keep­ing it fight­ing fit,” he says.

So quickly did his body re­cover that within three months, he was dis­charged. And from the mo­ment he reached home, Te­jas be­gan ex­er­cis­ing. “I’d do pull-ups and pushups and although I did ex­pe­ri­ence a bit of pain ini­tially, I re­fused to stop. I con­sulted doc­tors and they told me to take it easy, but I felt I knew my body bet­ter. It was the best way to get back into shape.”

He also de­vised a diet for him­self – af­ter con­sult­ing some ex­perts – which fo­cused on plenty of wa­ter, fruits, vegeta­bles, nuts, pro­teins and un­pro­cessed foods. Oc­ca­sion­ally, he would also go on one-day fasts to toughen him­self up.

When Te­jas was on the mend, he took a con­sul­tant’s job at an HR com­pany. “Around that time, I would of­ten feel low. Prob­a­bly the pain that I’d borne for months had left me fa­tigued. But I con­tin­ued to ex­er­cise. I would do one big work­out a week ev­ery Fri­day. It com­prised two to three ex­er­cises that were truly pun­ish­ing. I would then just rest over the week­end to re­cover. Through­out the week, I did light cal­lis­thenic ex­er­cises and ev­ery week I would in­crease the weights I was han­dling.”

It was at this time that Te­jas met Parag Mhetre, a Pune-based karate ex­po­nent and fit­ness con­sul­tant, who runs a gym that fo­cuses on core strength­en­ing ex­er­cises.

“I was im­pressed with the gym and im­me­di­ately signed up for a course,” says Te­jas. He ex­er­cised with ket­tle­bells, which weigh around 8kg each and are used as train­ing tools for wrestlers and peo­ple who prac­tise mar­tial arts.

Te­jas soon be­came so pro­fi­cient that Parag sug­gested that he open his own train­ing fa­cil­ity in New Delhi.

“By then, I had be­gun to feel phys­i­cally stronger and started de­vel­op­ing my train­ing sys­tem, so I de­cided to quit my job and set up some­thing like that.”

In June last year, Te­jas started Cal­is­then­ics 75, a train­ing cen­tre in rented premises in Vas­ant Vi­har.

“Cal­lis­then­ics is the art of train­ing the body with­out equip­ment. I am a big ad­vo­cate of body-weight train­ing so named it Cal­is­then­ics [the Amer­i­can spell­ing] and added 75 as a ran­dom num­ber! Ini­tially I had two stu­dents, now I train more than 50.”

In ad­di­tion to train­ing with his stu­dents, he de­cided to train him­self for the 2014 Iron­sports Pow­er­lift­ing Cham­pi­onship. But af­ter the event got scrapped, Te­jas de­cided to en­ter In­dia’s Strong­est Man com­pe­ti­tion. “I was in great shape and in a great frame of mind.”

The com­pe­ti­tion was held on March 20 – al­most two years af­ter his ac­ci­dent – and Te­jas lifted his way to two gold medals and one bronze in the 70kg to 90kg weight class. This gave him the over­all ti­tle of In­dia’s Strong­est Man.

“Many con­tes­tants were, with­out a doubt, stronger than I was, but they did not have the con­di­tion­ing to do the events well. More im­por­tantly, they lacked the men­tal for­ti­tude. I did 35 rep­e­ti­tions with 120kg in a minute, while the person who came sec­ond did only 14 reps.

“I did not win de­spite my ac­ci­dent; I won be­cause of the ac­ci­dent,” he says. “My am­bi­tion now is to win the ti­tle five years in a row and com­pletely de­stroy all the com­pe­ti­tion in In­dia. There­after, I will move to in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions and some day par­tic­i­pate in the­World’s Strong­est Man com­pe­ti­tion,” he says.

“The im­por­tance of health and fit­ness is some­thing that can­not be overem­pha­sised. I of­ten tell my stu­dents, I was able to over­come my hor­rific ac­ci­dent only be­cause I was healthy and fit – not just phys­i­cally but men­tally.

“And of course there is no sub­sti­tute for pos­i­tive think­ing. If you de­cide to work on your dream then it no longer re­mains a dream – it be­comes a re­al­ity. Af­ter all, our des­tiny is what we make of our life.”

Doc­tors were con­vinced that even if Te­jas sur­vived his in­juries, he would never walk again, but he proved them wrong

Te­jas’s friends Sukanya and Ma­hen­dra (below) fought for him to get the right med­i­cal treat­ment

Kanchana was frus­trated by how long it took to get to the hos­pi­tal to see her brother

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