A national-level volleyball player, Arunima Sinha was thrown off a moving train by a bunch of goons in 2011. Overcoming unbearable pain as she lay on the tracks through the night, she lost one of her legs and had a metal rod inserted in the other.
Arunima Sinha receiving the Padma Shri
Arunima’s is not just a story of conquering the world's highest peak but one of her undying spirit -- of rising from hopelessness to conquer insurmountable odds and turning her handicap into her biggest strength.
Defying insufferable pain as well as her detractors, she did not stop just at Everest and went on to climb five more peaks in five different continents and now has eyes set on her toughest challenge since Everest: Vinson Massif, the highest peak in Antarctica.
“I met with an accident in 2011 when I was travelling in the general compartment of a train from Lucknow to Delhi. Some goons tried to snatch the gold chain I was wearing and when I resisted, they threw me off the train in Bareilly district,” Arunima, now 29, said in an interview.
She collided with a passing train on the adjoining track before falling to the ground. While she doesn’t remember what happened immediately afterwards, when she came to her senses she felt unbearable pain and realised that one of her legs had been crushed while the other was also severely injured.
“I shouted for help with all my might, but there was no one around who could help me. There were rats eating my injured leg as I counted 49 trains passing by me during the night,” Arunima said.
It was in the morning that some villagers found her and took her to a nearby hospital where they had to amputate one of her legs while a rod was inserted in the other.
“They did not have anesthesia, and I told them to operate my injured leg without it. I had endured unbearable pain throughout the night by the railway track and I knew I could bear some more for my well-being,” she said.
She was later shifted to premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi where she spent close to four months. It was there that she resolved she would climb Everest.
“When I got a little better, I came to know there were some rumours floating around in the media that I did not have a ticket and that’s why I jumped off the train. When this was proved wrong, some people said I jumped off to commit suicide.”
“My family and I were shouting at the top of our voices that this was not true, but no one was listening. So, I decided the best way to answer was through action. I decided to prove who I was before the accident and who I still am,” she said.
While a person with even a hairline fracture is unable to move, Arunima’s was a story of never-say-die grit and courage.
“You cannot imagine the pain I suffered when I tried to walk. But when a person has committed 100 per cent to a task, the pain, suffering and all the obstacles cannot stop her.”
While the whole world doubted her, Arunima’s family, especially her brother-in-law Om Prakash, supported her. Om Prakash, 42, quit his job in the Central Reserve Police Force after the accident and motivated Arunima towards her goals.
“I stood by her side every day and every moment from the railway track to the Everest because I believed in her. I even trained with her and travelled to Everest base camp along with her,” Om Prakash said.
While people take years to be able to walk on a prosthetic leg, Arunima did it in four months. And in just over two years, she trained under the guidance of Bachendri Pal (the first Indian woman to climb Everest), got sponsorship for climbing the summit, started her journey to the top and conquered it.
“I used to bleed from my amputated leg, had blisters. Many times, the prosthetic leg came off on the mountain and I often fell. People called me crazy. They said I couldn’t do it.
“But they looked at my physical self and made the judgement. They could not see what was going on inside me. Without caring about anything, I told myself that it’s my leg and I know how it will walk,” Arunima said. “I got used to it, and the leg started to understand me as I started to understand it.”
With that same prosthetic leg, Arunima climbed three more summits before she got a new one. In her journey, she has so far conquered Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mount Kosciuszko (Australia), Mount Aconcagua (South America), Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia) and Mount Elbrus (Euorpe), apart from Mount Everest.
“I am going to Antarctica in December to climb Vinson Massif. This is the seventh continent and the toughest since the Everest.” She will undergo mountain training in Ladakh before flying to Antarctica.
Arunima wants to tell the world that if one sets one's eyes on a goal, there is nothing that can stop him or her.
“When I was on top of Everest, I wanted to scream to the world: See, I am on the top of the world when no one believed I could do that. I wanted to scream this to everyone who doubted me, who thought I was a cripple, and also to those who give up fighting after falling the first time,” she said.
And to encourage and inspire others like her, Arunima wants to set up an international sports academy for the differently abled.
“I have already bought the land for it in Unnao near Kanpur. The building needs to be constructed -- which will cost Rs 55 crore. But it is not a bigger challenge than climbing Everest with one leg,” she said.
Arunima has also adopted 120 differently-abled children in Lucknow and supports them in every possible way.