Today, when we gathered in the auditorium for a talk on leadership by Arunima Sinha, (the first woman amputee to climb the mount Everest) we expected to see an imposing personality, and when a delicate and petite woman passed by us without the hint of a limp, we did not realise that it was Arunima herself! I even asked another teacher if she could recognise Arunima on the stage and she replied she couldn’t! little did I know that the petite woman who passed me was none other than Arunima herself! She walked so well that no one could detect the fact that she had a prosthetic limb! It came as a surprise when she came on stage and we were told that she was Arunima! She had just passed us and walked rather like normal people do!
Sitting before us was a woman who had against all odds conquered the Mt. Everest with one good right leg and a prosthetic left leg on the twenty-first of May, 2013! She told us about how she was once a promising sportswoman and that one day while travelling in a train she had resisted some robbers who were trying to rob the passengers. Enraged by her resistance the robbers threw Arunima out of the carriage. What happened next could only happen in dreams or films. She narrated how she fell off, got entangled in the wheels of the train, and then fell on the tracks bleeding from both legs. The shards of her shin bones were poking out of the skin and she lay close to the tracks unable to pick herself because her legs would not bear her weight. She told us how she tried to move away from the tracks by dragging herself across the tracks, but then was afraid of not being able to do so before another train arrived. So she lay close to the tracks for a good seven hours, helpless but conscious! Forty-nine trains passed her before she was spotted by some village folk who then took her to the hospital nearby. At the hospital, they did not have anesthetics and the surgeon told her that he would have to amputate her left leg but without anesthetics! And Arunima told him to go ahead without the anesthesia! She told him that if she bear the pain and shock for seven hour, then she could definitely bear the pain of the operation! The Surgeon was so impressed by her courage, that he decided to operate on her forthwith, and he donated one unit of his blood to her. So, Arunima gripped the bar on the top of the bed and bore the pain once again! She survived the operation, and then was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi for further surgery. She was given further treatment, the pieces of bones in the right shin were attached to her right shin bone, and a prosthetic leg was provided to her. All this time while lying in bed she had decided to conquer the Mt.Everest and this gave her a goal or a direction in life. The day she was discharged she travelled to Jamshedpur to meet Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb the mount Everest. She had incidentally tried to contact Bachendri Pal while she was convalescing in hospital.
Arunima then told us about the rigorous training she had to undergo prior to attempting to scale the Mt. Everest. She spoke about how the pressure she put on her right leg caused her immense pain, and how the stump that fitted into the socket of the prosthetic was full of blisters which burst and bled due to chaffing. The doctors had repeatedly warned in the hospital that the prosthetic leg was meant for walking and not for the strenuous activity of climbing a mountain! But Arunima persisted pushing her mind and body to the limits! She further spoke about how people spoke behind her back about how she would soon quit training and go back home, not that they were being cruel, it was just that they were being concerned about her and it defied logic that this girl could even think of climbing the Mt. Everest!
Her first break after training took place when in the year 2012 she started on an expedition to Mt. Shamsher Kangri in Ladakh. Of the twenty-one people who started, only four reached the summit, and Arunima Sinha was one of the four! Her next target was the Mt.Everest, and guided by her strong conviction in herself, and the thought that she would climb the peak even if she died there drove her on. The big day soon arrived and on the twenty-eight of March 2013 she started on her ascent. She spoke about how thick the ice was. She managed to cross Base Camp to Camp one six times. The whole section is called the death zone area. Arunima spoke about how while climbing from camp 3 to camp 4 her prosthetic leg came off and she couldn’t move on and the people behind her kept shouting at her to move on. At that moment her greatest fear was of losing the prosthetic leg. So, she crawled to a ledge, grabbed hold of her leg and fixed it back to continue on her onward climb. Close to the South Summit she had almost exhausted her Oxygen supply. The Sherpa accompanying her reminded her of this fact and advised her to return, while calls were received from base camp telling her to return. Arunima however refused to oblige saying that she could see her target and didn’t want to give up. Looking at her persistence the Sherpa angrily accompanied her to the summit. The saving grace came when a British climber suddenly gave up on the ascent and threw one of his oxygen cylinders and continued on the descent with the other. Arunima gladly grabbed hold of the full cylinder and continued on her ascent. When the summit was still some distance away, she could see the flags of different nations and this made her even mire eager to reach it so that she could plant the Indian tri-colour. She somehow wanted to plant the flag there and then it became something that she wanted to do for her country! On the way back, on the descent she was able to see a large number of bodies of unsuccessful climbers who had succumbed to the harsh conditions prevailing there. The snow would cover up the bodies, and the next moment a strong wind would blow, exposing the bodies once again. These were the people who had succumbed on the return from the summit, or they were those who had succumbed to the cold before reaching the summit. It was at this moment that Arunima Sinha was finally able to understand the scale or magnitude of what she had achieved. It had taken her more than fifty days from the twenty-eighth of March 2013 to reach the summit of Mt. Everest- a journey through pain and suffering, a journey that was the result of grit and courage.
While no doubt, Arunima happens to be a Guinness Book record holder for being the first woman in the world to conquer the Mt. Everest with a prosthetic left leg, she will continue to be valued more as a a beacon of encouragement for all of us young and old about how determination, persistence and patience are all required to achieve success in life! While she was convalescing in Hospital in Delhi, she refused to sit on a wheel chair, nor use a crutch to prop herself! The doctors thought she was crazy, but then little did they know that she wanted to recover as fast as possible because she had a dream! She was able to use her prosthetic limb in two days, and was able to walk normally much before the two years that it takes people to perfect their gait and balance. Arunima now plans to climb Mt.Kilimanjaro soon. We all hope her all the best on her forthcoming climb. She continues to play football and wants to do blade running. Arunima will continue to be a source of inspiration for the youth of India and to do more for the youth she has a dream of opening a sports academy which would provide a suitable platform for children to grow. Bachendri Pal and Yuvraj Singh, both continue to inspire her.
Note: I would like to thank Gulmeher Dhillon, a student of class twelve for taking down valuable notes during the talk. Her accuracy and diligence are commendable, and without her valuable feedback it would not have been possible to prepare this write up. Thanks once again, Arunima for inspiring us with your story, and Gulmeher for your valuable notes!
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