Shooting for the stars

Issue 04, 2019

Shooting for the stars

Ishita Goel |author

Issue 04, 2019

From a paraplegic swimmer to a hearing-impaired golfer, and from a blade runner to a bilateral amputee, who is also a disability rights activist, we bring you four stories of courage and grit.

It is not our abilities that define who we are but the choices we make. When adversity strikes ordinary lives – some choose to give up their dreams, while others look at the challenges as stepping stones to reach for the stars and fly higher. We delve into the stories of four such achievers who have overcome the difficulties life has thrown at them, set inspiring examples in their respective fields and proved that every disability brings a different kind of ability.

Give Up, “Giving Up”
A Kargil war veteran, India’s first blade runner, a motivational speaker and National Award winner – Major DP Singh has scripted an incredible story of grit and courage. On a fateful day during the Kargil war (1999), he fell into the radius of an exploding bomb. When he was told that his leg was affected by gangrene and needed to be amputated, he saw it as a challenge. “I wanted to see how people with one leg live. I believe that God only tests those who he feels are strong and determined enough to not only overcome the obstacle but emerge victorious,” says Major Singh. It took Singh about 10 years to start running and he never looked back.

After encouraging wins in state and national championships,
Shams Alam Shaikh finally made it to the Asian Games

He has completed 26 half marathons (including 3 on high altitude) successfully and holds several motivational seminars to guide young adults. Infact, in 2015 when there was a surge in suicide cases amongst students in Kota, Rajasthan, Singh was actively involved in holding sessions to guide them. “When I run, I feel the jarring impact of my blade on the ground from hip to head. I run for the sheer exhilaration of it, but when I finally stop, I’m bruised all over…”. Today Singh talks proudly about his four records listed in the Limca Book of Records, including one for being the first blade runner to run in high altitudes.In March 2019, he became the first Indian battle casualty veteran to skydive, under the training of the Indian Army.

Major DP Singh during one of his rigorous training sessions to be in the best possible shape for competitive marathons

A Sportsman by Spirit
As hundreds of cameras rolled and thousands of people from over 43 countries watched, Shams Alam Shaikh, a paraplegic swimmer, waded his way to success by qualifying for the Asian Games 2018, in Jakarta. The scenario is hard to imagine when you rewind to eight years ago, when he was recuperating at the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre, in Mumbai. “In 2010, I was detected with spinal tumour, which left me wheelchairbound and put an end to my dreams of becoming an international karate champion, for which I had trained for most of my life.” “However, as my mother used to say, when one door closes, another opens. At the rehabilitation centre, I met Rajaram Ghag, a differently-abled Indian who had crossed the English Channel by swimming solo in 1988. “I was amazed that a person in a wheelchair could do so. This brought a ray of hope in my heart,” he says.

Shams Alam Shaikh showcasing his medals; The swimmer during one his attempt at the longest open sea swim by a paraplegic individuals.

From that day onwards started Shaikh’s journey of training in swimming. After encouraging wins in state and national championships, he finally made it to the Asian Games. He holds the record of the longest open sea swim by a paraplegic person. Today, Shaikh is an inspiration for many as he travels the world motivating and empowering the differently-abled through sports.

The Swing of Faith
Diksha Dagar was around six years old when she realised she suffered from a hearing impairment. But the gutsy girl didn’t let the silence around become a hinderance. Instead, she used it as a tool to “focus better and stay more visually aware” – both a must for a golfer. Becoming the youngest Indian to win the Ladies European Tour 2019, Dagar has carved out a niche for herself in the golfing circuit.

In 2017, Dikhsa Dagar clinched a silver for India at the Deaflympics in Turkey.
As an amateur, she also won a Women’s Golf Association of India pro event.

However, it hasn’t always been a smooth sail. “I have always loved to play golf but no one was ready to coach me. So my father decided to step in,” says the 19-year-old from Rohtak, Haryana. In 2017, Dagar clinched a silver for India at the Deaflympics in Turkey. As an amateur, she also won a Women’s Golf Association of India pro event. After about 60 tournaments in more than 20 countries alongside regular athletes, she is now preparing to tee off a new journey at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. With dedication and hardwork she is on her way to make history by becoming the first differently abled athlete from India to compete at the Games.

Diksha Dagar during one of her practice sessions

Fight- and you Will Survive
On a sweltering afternoon in Bikaner, Rajasthan, 13-year-old Malvika Iyer wandered into their garage looking for something that would help her fix her torn jeans. Little did she know that an ammunition depot had exploded a few months ago and bomb pieces were lying around the neighbourhood. The object that she chose was a grenade that exploded as soon as she exerted pressure, leaving her a bilateral amputee – without hands.

Today, Iyer is not only a PhD and a National Awardee but also an
international motivational speaker and a disability rights activist

That was in 2002. Today, Iyer is not only a PhD and a National Awardee but is also an internationally-recognised motivational speaker and a disability rights activist. Her efforts have been recognised with the Nari Shakti Puraskar, the highest civilian honour for women for outstanding contribution to women’s empowerment. “Everyday I wake up, there’s a new challenge waiting for me. I have accepted that I’m never going to have a dull day,” says Iyer. “There was a time when rods were drilled inside my legs and hands were covered in bandages, and if I can overcome that I can come out of anything,” she adds. A great advocate of accessible fashion, Iyer has also been a ramp showstopper, proving that dreams don’t become reality through magic. It takes sweat, determination and hard work to achieve the impossible!

Malvika Iyer receiving Nari Shakti award from the President, Ram Nath Kovind

Ishita Goel

Ishita Goel is a New Delhi-based journalist. After a brief stint with the Indian Express, she has been actively writing on disciplines across Indian heritage and current affairs
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