From Wheelchair to Podium


India’s Deepa Malik scripted history when she won the silver medal in the women’s shotput F53 event at the Rio Paralympics on Monday, with a personal best throw of 4.61m.

With this herculean effort, she became India’s first woman and oldest athlete to ever win a medal at the Paralympics.

Deepa started off with a throw of 4.26m, then registered 4.49 on her second attempt and 4.41m on the third. On her sixth throw, she recorded a personal best of of 4.61m, which ultimately helped her finish second.

“I want to use this medal to support women with disabilities in India. This journey has been wonderful for me and my entire family, I am proud to be the oldest athlete in the team and win a medal.” 45-year old told IANS after her feat.

Spinal tumor to silver medal

Deepa is a paraplegic, paralysed from waist down. A spinal tumour confined her to a wheelchair 17 years ago, and she has been unable to walk since then. Deepa has two daughters, Devika and Ambika, and is married to Army officer Col Bikram Singh Malik.

“It was pretty depressing in the beginning but the love and support of my family made the process easy for me. The acceptance of your disability by your near and dear ones can make a lot of contribution to ones confidence,” she told the Disability News and Information Service. “It made me look at life from a new window. I learned everything all over again, right from turning into a bed to sit, from having a bath to changing clothes. But the biggest challenge I faced was timing my bladder and water intake.”

Entry into athletics

Her advent into sports began on a note of pure luck. “The Maharashtra Paralympic Sports Association had earlier seen me swimming. They asked me if I wanted to participate in the Nationals and that it was a sure shot medal because I was going to be the first one in my disability category. I could swim but I never knew that it was worth a medal,” Disability News and Information Service quoted her as saying.

Most paraplegics in India have to deal with the insensitivity of people around them, which lends itself to a great story of battling the odds. For Deepa, a colonel’s wife, such adulation was not as forthcoming due to the absence of a ‘rags to riches’ story. In an interview with Tehelka, she had said “People write me off because I’m an upper middle class colonel’s wife, because my story isn’t one of poverty and because I’m in my 40s.”

Stigma attached with disability

Deepa has spoken about the social stigma attached to disability. In an interview with The Guardian she had said, “There is still this pervasive religious view that if you are disabled, you have been cursed by the gods.”

Dr V K Batish, the neurosurgeon who operated upon her at the Research and Referral Hospital of the armed forces at Delhi told The Indian Express“In the 25 years that I’ve been a neurosurgeon, I have never come across a person like her. Deepa’s recovery and her subsequent achievements are amazing. She’s the kind who can teach doctors and the society at large.”

Beyond sports

Deepa’s distinctions in multiple sports, her various activities including ‘Ability beyond Disability’, her three Limca Book of World Records and her various medals in swimming at international competitions make her a unique athlete. She holds the Asian record in javelin throw, and also has World Championships silver medals in shot put and discus that she won in 2011.

Perhaps her most adventurous step till date would be the 3,000 km journey she took from Delhi to Leh and back on a specially enabled car. The hand-controlled vehicle would take her through the Rohtang pass up until the highest motorable pass in the world, the Khardung La, at an elevation of 5,359m, according to a report by The Times of India. This record is especially remarkable when we take into account that Deepa has no control over her bladder and bowel movement and also has no control of her body beneath her chest.

Deepa is helped GoSports Voices in her sports training.  Here’s a video they posted on Twitter, after Deepa’s silver-medal winning effort

About Deepak Devanand

Seeker of knowledge
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