In 1999, when Deepa Malik walked into an operation theatre she knew that she will come out paralysed chest down. Her husband was fighting in the Kargil War and they had two daughters to look after, one of them physically challenged.
“I had undergone three tumour surgeries and had about 200 stitches between my shoulder blades, when the doctors said that I had to have an operation that is going to leave me paralyzed for life. I prepared myself for the operation. After the procedure, sleeping on the hospital bed, all tubed up is when I decided I’m going to transform my disability into an ability,” she told THE TEENAGER TODAY.
Malik, who is an Asian record holder (parathletes) in women’s javelin throw, says she’s not that changed as a person since her operation in 1999, it’s just that she’s learnt more about life and the importance of sports.
And she did just that. How?
“I was in the army hospital. When I looked around me, there were all war heroes. I thought that I have medical condition which has brought me here, but these guys have actually risked their life fighting for our nation. How could you not be inspired by them?”
But it wasn’t just that. “It was the fight for survival,” she says. “I was single-handedly looking after two children. I didn’t know if my husband would even come back from the war. I wasn’t given an option. I had to be a fighter,” she says.
Deepa also finds her name in the Limca Book of Records for crossing a 1-km stretch of the Yamuna River against the current in 2008.
“You just have to be positive. Life is a festival that you need to celebrate every day,” she says.
Deepa, while the whole of India is proud of your achievement in the Paralympics, your journey to the tournament was quite eventful…
(Laughs) What can I say? When I landed in Rio, the airlines told me that my luggage hadn’t arrived. Now my luggage had everything. It had all my equipment. That was panic! The initial half an hour was very confusing and scary. But then again, I had learned enough in life to know that it was not the time to panic. It was the biggest dream of my life. We launched a complaint. Then went on social media to get a feedback about the airlines, and received horrible reviews. They did offer compensation, but what’s the use of money? That couldn’t get my equipment. Each day of practice is crucial.
How did you cope with it?
I told myself that I shouldn’t lose my will-power. After all, I haven’t lost my arms or my legs. I told myself that I had to throw the shot put and nothing was going to come in the way of that. We could make alternate arrangements. Looking back though, I think losing the luggage made me feel special because the entire nation was tweeting to the airlines. The Indian embassy went into action. They were directly in touch with the airline. Basically, it became a national issue. I was amazed by how concerned my country was.