Disability
"By the time I reached the eighth checkpoint, I almost gave up. I didn't know if I'd make it," she said.

Sowmya K Bhaskar’s life has been filled with challenges as far back as she can remember. The 35-year-old, who hails from Bengaluru, has had to go through many jobs in her decade long career in the HR field. Not because she wasn’t good enough but because she suffers from a condition which has cost her 90% of her vision.

Sowmya was diagnosed with macular degeneration when she was ten. The condition causes cells of the central retina to die over time. Now, she can only see through her peripheral vision, which means that she would be able to tell if someone is standing right in front of her, but she wouldn’t be able to make out who it is.

But four months ago, she did something which reaffirms her belief that sometimes “you’ve just got to turn a deaf ear to everyone around you and do what you’ve got to do.”

Sowmya participated in the Oxfam trailwalker – a 50 kilometre walk at Nandi Hills in Bengaluru – and completed the walk in 17 hours. Her grit and perseverance earned her the ‘Overcoming the Odds’ award.

Held between January 20 and 22, the event invited teams of four to participate for a cause. For Sowmya, the cause was something she had been grappling with almost all her life–an inclusive society where she is treated as an equal. 

With the support of her three colleagues, Sowmya decided to participate in the trailwalker.

Sowmya KB

“I was prepared for blisters and knee and ankle injuries, but because I couldn’t anticipate the highs and lows in the uneven terrain. That along with my inability to see well, was like a catch in my hip. By the time I reached the eighth checkpoint, I almost gave up,” she told TNM.

There were two more check posts and another 16-18 kilometres to the end of the trail. “It was already 6.45 pm, which meant that it was almost pitch dark. I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it,” Sowmya recounts.

Sowmya’s team did not leave her side through any of this. They decided that either all four of them would finish the walk or all four of them would quit. With her team’s faith and her own drive for her cause, Sowmya decided to do the former.

“We had torches but they weren’t of much help to me. So one of my female team members held my hand while the other two men walked in front of us and warned me if there was an uneven path, a stone on the side or a turn ahead. We started having fun doing this,” Sowmya chuckles.

Finally, they reached the finish line at midnight. And while many teams had finished before Sowmya, it did not matter to her.

“Other saw it as a race. I was just telling myself–you have 24 hours, you can make it! I could just remember the tale of the hare and the tortoise. I was the tortoise and I made it to the finish. That’s what matters,” Sowmya says happily.

When she had initially thought of participating in the trailwalk, her husband seemed okay with it. But as the date drew near, Sowmya says he began panicking. “He kept telling me to be careful and back out immediately if I was injured. It’s a good thing I didn’t get injured, because he’d have reprimanded me for a few months at least,” she laughs.

Currently based in Hyderabad, Sowmya now wishes to represent India at similar events on an international stage as well. “I also want to be mentor to other persons with disability too. I want to tell them – you can do it!” she says.