Arunima Sinha is someone who rules her life with an iron rod. The world’s first female amputee to climb Mount Everest was in the Capital for an inspiring speech as part of the 28th Annual International Seminar held by the Abu Dhabi Chapter of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.
The 28-year-old woman from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has a rod inserted in her right leg and has prosthetics on the left. And she has a stirring but surreal past.
Her father passed away during her early years. She became a national level volleyball player but was desperate to have a steady job. She got a call letter from the Central Industrial Security Force but there were some typos in it and Arunima decided to visit New Delhi to rectify the error. It was a decision that changed her life forever.
“It was in 2011. I was in the general compartment of the train a gang of thieves were robbing everyone. They came after my gold chain. I fought and could’ve got the better of them but then they threw me out of the moving train. Unfortunately, another train was coming on the next track and I was ping-ponged. Once the trains passed, I tried to get up but couldn’t as my leg was severed. At night, rats would nibble at my severed leg and I could just watch it and wail in pain as my hands were fractured,” the woman from Ambedkar Nagar near Lucknow said. Next morning, villagers admitted her to District Hospital Bareilly, where her misery got worse.
“In the hospital, there was no anaesthesia, blood or oxygen. I told the doctors to go ahead as I had endured the pain for so many hours and any medical assistance would be good. Even the doctor and pharmacist donated their blood. I was fully conscious when the surgery happened,” she narrated her horror story.
The issue was then taken up by the Indian media. With the interference of the Ministry of Sports, she was shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.
“I got good treatment but soon the media headlines in support turned the other way. About 20 days after the surgery, a section of media said I was trying to commit suicide or travelling ticketless and dodging the checker. I couldn’t get up but I shouted my lungs out that I am a victim. It wasn’t easy to fight the system. It wasn’t easy to convince anyone. Then I sought to turn my weakness into strength. I took disability as a blessing. I found the best way to silence everyone – climb Mount Everest,” she said.
And she found a supporter other than her mother and two siblings.
“Everyone said I had gone insane. It was then I googled to see whom to approach for help with mountaineering and found Bachendri Pal – the first Indian woman to climb Everest. I immediately went to meet her and she encouraged me. She told me with tears rolling that I had already conquered my inner Everest and I had to just show it to the world.”
Arunima got trained at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering with Tata Steel providing her sponsorship. After nearly two years, she was ready.
“My Sherpa was dead against me going for this but I was defiant. I put in my best effort to climb my first slope. I would often lose grip but withstood pain. Each movement took 30 seconds but I motivated myself. I managed to reach South Col. Before me was 3,500 feet of death zone as maximum fatalities happen in this area. I saw several bodies at night but I continued. And on May 21, 2013, almost two years after the tragedy, I had reached the Everest top.”
Even before she could celebrate, Arunima was told her oxygen cylinder was running out and there was a dangerous way down left. “I was sure to die. I took more time than usual and finished both my oxygen cylinders. I took photos and asked my Sherpa to shoot a video for everyone to remember. This was the whole aim, just to prove a point to the world what a woman, an amputee, can do if she is determined.”
Luck, something which she doesn’t believe in, favoured her. “A Briton left his additional cylinder and my Sherpa grabbed it. We continued and I am here to tell my tale.
“I want to give back to the society. I want to motivate others by sharing my experience. It’s not only in India, I have been to the UN, London and many other places.”
She has started the Shaheed Chandra Shekhar Vikalang Khel Academy for poor and differently-abled athletes to excel.
In 2015, she was awarded the fourth highest civilian award in India, Padma Shri. She also wrote a book, ‘Born again on the mountain’ which was released by Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi in December.
She has scaled many major peaks and will continue with another in December.
She was all praise of Raha Moharrak, who is the youngest Arab and the first Saudi woman to conquer Mount Everest. “She is a very determined woman. Raha is the pride of the Arab world. Women in the Arab world should take lesson from her.”