There is an old English proverb - "Where there's a will, there's a way". Arunima Sinha is a living example of that before us.
The national level volleyball player, Arunima, who lost her leg after a horrific incident where she was thrown off a train in 2011, stood on top of the world and achieved what is unthinkable for most.
The girl who was pushed out of the moving Padmawati Express train for resisting a chain-snatching attempt by hoodlums in 2011 is now the world’s first woman to conquer the Mt. Everest on a prosthetic leg.
IBNLive caught up with the her in an exclusive chat on the sidelines of a felicitation ceremony organised to honour real-life heroes or adventurists.
It's extremely unfortunate and inhuman what happened with you on that terrifying night in 2011. Would you like to share it with us?
I still get frightened when I think of that incident. In 2011, just to get my date of birth inserted on a certificate, I decided to travel from Lucknow to Delhi. It happened near Bareilly, when some hoodlums Jumped onto the train and started robbing the passengers. They tried to snatch my gold chain too. When I tried to fight in self-defence, they pushed me out of the train. Unfortunately, there was another train coming from the other track. I was conscious and could just see the headlight of the engine. When the train passed, I touched my thighs and something was missing. I shouted a lot. It was 1:30 am and no one was there to listen to me. In the morning, when the nearby villagers saw me, they took me to the district hospital. After seeing my condition, doctors decided to cut my leg and that too without anaesthesia.
When media highlighted the incident, then I started getting better treatment. Doctors shifted me to a special ward from general ward and then to AIIMS in Delhi.
You had to face some allegations despite what you went through.
Yes. There were a couple of allegations against me. First people said I was travelling without ticket and when the ticket-checker came, I jumped from the train. Second, there were people who also claimed that I tried to commit suicide. Thanks to god that I managed to prove them wrong.
Why did you decide to scale Mount Everest as you could join the support staff of volleyball team also?
Honestly, I was tired of explaining people that I didn’t attempt suicide. I tried to convince people but failed mostly. Whenever I saw my missing leg, I used to think, I will never let it be my weakness. Losing a part of your body at an early age is a big thing. I was terrified with my disability and the people who were criticising me. Then I decided, to answer them with action not words.
I was on the hospital bed and was reading a newspaper. I was reading an article about Everest. It mentioned that that there are 15 routes that connect to the Everest. Out of those 15, 14 have been targeted by mountaineers and one route is yet to be followed. My bhaisaab (brother-in-law), who has taken care of me after the demise of my mother and father, was sitting beside me. I told him about this route number 15 and my desire to conquer it. He took a pause and said if you have determination then, of course, you can achieve it. After searching the records, my bhaisaab told me that no one in the world has climbed the peak with a prosthetic leg. These words were enough to lit a spark in me.
You also met Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to scale Mount Everest in 1984.
After I had decided to climb the Everest, I needed guidance to start preparation. I needed money also. I went door to door for sponsorship but people refused to give any support and sympathised with me saying since I do not have a leg, I should not think of taking such a step. They called me psychic. I asked a journalist to get me Bachendri Pal’s number. She arranged it for me in just two hours. I called Bachendri Pal and introduced myself. I just requested her to meet me and she agreed. With stitches on my leg, I boarded the train to Jamshedpur to meet Bachendri Pal. She welcomed me and listened to me. She gave me a lot of confidence and said thinking of climbing the Everest in such condition is itself a very big thing. She told me not be emotional and start practicing for my mission Everest.
A mountaineer spends whole life to get his/her body acclimatised. How did you manage in such a short time?
After I met Bachendri Pal, I didn’t turn back to my home. I started training from there. Since then, I stayed on the mountains. The reason was I had to acclimatise. Everest is the highest peak in the world. It took 52 days for me to complete the mission. Before starting the summit, I had covered the peaks surrounding Everest. I did this to acclimatise by body.
How has been your mountaineering journey?
In January, 2012, I started mountaineering practice. I had to make my body acclimatised to the conditions. I started trekking with confidence with just one aim that I have to climb the Everest one day. When I started trekkking, my prosthetic leg used to give me problems. Sometimes blood used to come out of the stitches. My instructors had also given up and tried to convince me to take my decision back but I didn’t stop there. Bachendri Pal used to take me to high altitude for team building. Initially, I failed to reach there but I didn’t let my determination die. There was just one dream – Mission Everest.
How did you manage to finally summit?
After training, I sat alone and told myself that I have to make this possible. Everyone was worried about my prosthetic leg but not me.
We were six people from India. I was really comfortable till the rocky area. But the moment glaciers came, my condition deteriorated. My group members were ahead of me. Somehow, I managed to climb up the snowy slopes but had a terrible experience on the walls. I took a hit on one of the walls on my right leg. My thighs were swollen. I had to adjust my prosthetic leg again and again. My instructor was telling me again and again that we are not that far from the base camp and asked me turn back. I looked at him and made him believe that I can do it. I had trust on myself. I again fixed my prosthetic leg and climbed the wall.
How was the experience when you were just a few steps away from your goal – The Everest?
I just wanted to reach the top and hoist the tri-colour and kiss it, but what I saw en route terrified me. I saw many dead bodies. Some had turned into skeleton and some were covered with sheets of snow. I was frightened to see such a scene. My mind had stopped working by that time. I was taking care of my prosthetic leg too because had it fallen and my leg stump got in contact with the snow, I would have suffered the frostbite. Frostbite is very dangerous. It happens if we are not properly geared or covered. Due to this, the body part will first turn blue, then red and then black. At red and blue stages, the body part can be saved but one the body part turns black, it has to be cut. My instructor was continuously motivating me. Finally, I did what I wanted.
Arunima feels glad that platforms like Mountain Dew's 'Naam Bantey Hain Risk Se' are there to highlight such achievements. This campaign, which has clocked a reach of 3.1 million and generated over 35,000 Twitter conversations and over 25,000 shares, was designed to identify and recognize individuals who have overcome their fears, explored new boundaries and moved ahead with a self-belief to become what they are today.
Arunima feels such initiatives are indispensable in contributing to a sport’s popularity and garnering sponsorships.