Loss of a leg couldn't dampen Arunima's ambition to conquer peaks

Arunima is the first female amputee to have scaled the Everest.
Loss of a leg couldn't dampen Arunima's ambition to conquer peaks
Loss of a leg couldn't dampen Arunima's ambition to conquer peaks
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On December 12, Arunima Sinha proudly stood beside Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the latter launched her first book, "Born Again on the Mountain".

She scaled the Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world in 2013, but that's not the only reason why her story is special. Arunima is the first female amputee to have scaled the Everest. The book chronicles her long, arduous and ultimately jubilant journey to the peak of Everest. 

Struggles are a part and parcel of human life. But Arunima's story is about never stopping. Her story is of a person who believes in living life to a capacity that many of us never knew existed. Her story is one worth knowing.

(During the launch, Arunima surprisingly was too composed and spoke very less, while others conversed with the PM. "That is when the PM came forward and told everyone, 'Today is Arunima's day, and we should hear her speak today'", says Arunima. They ended up speaking about Arunima's future plans of setting up a sports academy and her views on implementing the Swach Bharat Campaign in schools.)

The accident

The year was 2011. It was April 11. Arunima was on a train to Greater Noida from Lucknow.

She was on her way to a job interview.

Late at night, a few men entered the general compartment in which Arunima was seated, and tried snatching the gold chain she was wearing on her neck. Arunima resisted. A tussle ensued. What happened next was set to change the course of her life forever. 

One of the men kicked her out of the train. "I tried holding on to the handle, but couldn't," Arunima says reminiscing.

She fell on the railway track. The area was pitch dark. She had no idea which part of the state she was in. And then a train approaching from another side crushed one of her legs. "I tried to move, but the pain was immense".

Though she managed to crawl to the space between two railway tracks, she was still lying dangerously close to the tracks. "I was lying so close to the tracks. The trains ran past by me. If people happened to be urinating on the train at that point, it would sprinkle all over me," she says remembering each detail as if it happened just yesterday.

She tried to shout, but the immense blood loss was pulling her down. "I tried to wipe it off my body, and I could not even do that," she says.

Forty-nine trains whizzed past her before she was discovered in the morning and rushed to a hospital. Having been seriously injured with leg and pelvic injuries, doctors had to amputate her left leg below the knee.

Aftermath of the accident

Though she was grateful to the court and the media for their relentless support, Arunima, a former national level volleyball player, knew she could not forever make rounds of the courts fighting cases.

She did think for a while that her "life was over". For a sportsperson, what could be worse than an irreversible physical injury? "But I knew I wouldn't give up. What had to happen, had happened. It was time to look forward", she states.

Why Everest?

"After my accident, I wanted to do something challenging, I wanted to do mountaineering. Saying it and actually doing it is different I know," Arunima says in a-matter-of-fact way.

People around me were taken aback by my decision. When I tried getting sponsorships, some said "She seems to have lost her mind too along with her leg. But I had to get back my self-confidence, and with my family's support I was able to reach my goal," she asserts.

The training and final expedition to conquer the world's highest peak

Arunima met Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1984, and the chief of Tata Steel Adventure Foundation.

Under her guidance, Arunima began training for a journey of Herculean proportions.

The training was tough. "Initially, during training, others reached the base camp in 2-3 minutes, whereas I took over two hours to do the same," she says.

Fielding several oppositions, Arunima finally got a full sponsorship from Tata Steel for the expedition to Everest. And thus began the journey that would become a chapter in history textbooks. "Until we had to walk, I was fine. But then we had to climb ice walls, and it was just the beginning of tough situations for me," she says.

"One mistake, and I could lose my life. After we crossed camp 3, that area is called a "death zone"; I could see dead bodies everywhere. Some half buried in ice, all had turned blue. There was the body of one person, who had a bottle of water in his hand, and the cap in the other. It seemed he was trying to drink water, but must have passed away before he could do that. It was shocking. If these able bodied people could not reach the summit, how could I?," she says.

Arunima vivid description of the scene is enough to give goosebumps.

But now the expedition was no more about just Arunima. "It was for my family, for Tata Steel, for Bachchendri ma'am," she says.

And then the moment, which Arunima was waiting for, finally arrived on May 21, 2013 at 10:55 am IST.

Arunima had reached the summit of Mt. Everest. The feeling, she says is difficult to describe. "It was amazing, and yet very different. The view from there is splendid. From the Everest, it looks like the sun is rising from below you from amidst the clouds. You are so high, right on top of the world. On one side is the sun, on the other is the moon, and in between it was me," she states, although her feeling can only be tried to put in words.

Tears rolled down her eyes, only to freeze half way down her cheeks. At 8,842 km above ground and with below -60 degree C temperature, the peak looked like it belonged to another world. "People often refer to the peak as Kailsah Parvat, and in a way it seemed it was made for the Gods. Ordinary mortals were incapable of surviving there," she asserts.

Arunima, though exhausted by the time, was shouting in joy. "My sherpa got worried. He told me if I shouted so much, I would run out of oxygen faster", she says laughing. At that point on the peak of Mount Everest, months of hard work and pent up emotions were culminating, the impossible became possible, and all the Sherpa was worried about was her oxygen running out, Arunima wondered.

She then took photographs of herself and asked the Sherpa to also record a video with a message, just in case she was not able to return to the ground alive. The world had to know what she had achieved.

Once Arunima returned, apart from the warm welcome she received, people from all walks of life came to her, saying they were inspired by what she had achieved. They too now wanted to do something in life. "I then decided I wanted to take on another challenge. I decided I wanted to scale the highest peaks in each of the seven continents," she says.

As if by chance, she met Mr Hanumath Gaekwad of Bharat Vikas Group India Limited, during an event and the latter was impressed with Arunima's story. He told her he would sponsor her expeditions in the rest of the six continents.

"I have scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mount Elbrus in Europe already; Asia too has been covered," she says.

Arunima characterizes a person who gets what she aims for on the basis of her grit and determination. Speaking about her book launch she says, "I wanted my book to be launched by Ratan Tata or Narendra Modi," confidence oozing out of her words.

Since her book already includes a quote by Ratan Tata, she zeroed in on the Prime Minister. When her publishers found it difficult to get through to the PM, she wrote a note herself, went to the PMO and put in a request. Her request was answered in the affirmative earlier this month.

Her plans to go to Australia next were put on a brief hold after her mother recently passed away. She now is ready to hop onto another journey, to conquer her dreams, to leave foot prints for others to follow. 

This article was first published on The News Minute on December 16, 2014.

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