Arunima Sinha! Name ring a bell in the mind? At age 24, a small tragedy occurred in this girl’s life when she was thrown off a train by four thugs, lost one leg, almost lost her life. Yet she survived and came back strongly to conquer five high altitude peaks and our hearts. Hers is not only a story of courage and determination that got her to achieve something that seemed impossible, but a saga of will power that has inspired millions across the world
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Her early years
Arunima Sinha is from Ambedkarnagar, a district that is close to 200 Km from Lucknow. Born to an engineer father, who passed away when she was just three, and a mother, supervisor with the Health Dept., she and her younger brother were fondly brought up by a family of elder sister, her husband, and her mother. Her sister’s husband referred to as Bhai Sahab became the mainstay of the family and her guide in life. With love for sports being in the family, she grew up to love cycling, playing football and became a volleyball player at the National Level. But naturally, being a post graduate and then having studied Law, she had to make a mark in her life as a professional and earn a living to support her family.
Employment and her life struggle
Despite her confidence that she could get a good job, Fate planned otherwise and she did not get employment for quite some time. Seeing her frustration, her Bhai Sahab suggested joining the Para Military Forces in the Army, where she could have a chance to pursue her love of sports and also have a steady job at the same time. Again luck did not favour her. In 2011 she applied for CISF and it seemed like she had it made. There was a mistake in her Date Of Birth in the call letter and she wished to have it corrected to get the job. She started off for Delhi.
Fate ordained otherwise
In the general compartment of the Padmavat Express, this young girl of 24, lost in her thoughts suddenly found four thugs tugging at her gold chain. Resisting valiantly since it was a gift from her mother, the enraged thugs taking hold of her limbs, lifted and tossed her out of the train. As chance would have it she hit the train passing by and fell on the tracks opposite only to be having a train passing just, run over her left leg. In pain and helplessly lying without being able to move (a later report said that 49 trains had rushed over that leg) she was spotted by villagers in the morning who took her to the nearby Bareilly District Hospital. Hours before she actually got treatment, this girl bore it like any hero you see in a movie – only the pain was very much real.
Her ordeal not yet over, she had to get the crushed leg amputated to prevent gangrene from setting in, and as the hospital did not have the needed anaesthesia to get the operation done smoothly, it was sawn off while she was in a consciously aware state. The pharmacist himself had to donate his own blood to make good the loss of the profusely bleeding leg.
A bold decision that transformed her life
While she was fighting for her life in the hospital, newspersons got hold of her story and soon she was visited by all sorts of persons wishing to see this unusual girl of pluck who survived to tell her story. Initially it was media attention and political promise for good treatment at AIIMS by Ajay Maken, the Union Sports Minister then, which then slowly took an ugly turn and got her brickbats and accusations like, jumping out of the train on her own for travelling ticketless and scared when the TC came, wanting to commit suicide etc.
As the political battle waged as to who would bear the responsibility between centre and state, she silently made a resolve. She would attempt Mount Everest, the most treacherous climb ever, of the Himalayas. The left leg was amputated, a rod inserted in the right leg, from knee to ankle, to hold the shattered bones together; there she pondered on the most impossible dream she could set for herself.
Setting out to conquer
Her logic for choosing Everest was simple. Being reduced to, being labeled a victim of an accident or a failed suicide case, her voice had drowned in the din. The only way to prove that she was right was to do something others would not dare, an impossible objective like this. Naturally there were one or the other of the two reactions that she had to face when she loudly voiced her plan in front of the doctors. They either laughed outright or mused whether it was the trauma that had affected her thinking.
She met Bachendri Pal, the first woman in the world to climb the Everest, and voiced her plans. Bachendri Pal was the only one besides her parents who did not laugh. Admiring her for her steely resolve she also cautioned that though she was mentally strongit was no picnic that could be taken lightly and in her case even tougher than could be imagined. She guided her with insights and what possibly could be done by Arunima.
The journey begins
Arunima went about her mission seriously. Doing a basic course from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), the best of its kind in Asia, it was rigorous training all the way for 18 months. She climbed smaller but quite dangerous mountains as the Everest, where she faced a couple of near death experiences and bore mind numbing, exhaustive and spirit crushing pain. Helped by a grant from NIM and partly her own finance initially, it was Tata Steel that gave a generous sponsorship to keep her dream alive and her resolve intact.
Moving ahead despite the dangers to life
A prosthetic limb where the ankle and heel would constantly swivel as she climbed, causing loss of grip often, spasms of acute intense pain due to slight pressure because the right leg was held together by a steel rod, the cold, and many other factors that could daunt able bodied men, looked her in the eye. Yet so very determined was she that despite her Sherpa wanting to turn back she pressed him to move on ahead.
Four camps traversed, 3500 ft. more to the summit, she reached the ‘Death Zone’, an area known for claiming lives without mercy and she also found bodies of erstwhile climbers strewn all around. In fact she saw a Bangladeshi climber breathe his last in front of her eyes. Butterflies in the stomach and unfounded fears daunting the mind, Arunima just moved on.
Conquest of the world
On 21st May 2013 she reached the Everest summit. She erected the Indian flag on the peak, deposited some pictures of her idol Swami Vivekananda next to it. Earlier her Sherpa had informed her that her oxygen supply was critically low. He advised her to save her life now, so that she could climb Everest again later. All she said was “If I don’t climb Everest now, my life will not be worth saving.” Then she used the last vestiges of the oxygen to take pictures and videos of herself on the peak. She assumed she was probably going to die. So it was important that the visual proofs of the achievement would reach the world to inform what she had done. Fifty steps later, her oxygen finished.
Fortune favours the brave
Suffocating and gasping for breath as she progressed slowly, her mind would not accept the reality easily and believed that “We chart our own destiny. It is my firmest conviction that luck will favour those who have the drive and the tenacity to win”. It was then that she came across an extra cylinder of oxygen which the Sherpa quickly latched on to her. Saved!
Slowly embarking on the precarious downward climb where far more deaths occur on the downward descent she had survived the worst. As she said later, “it was time to tell my tale”.
Did the heroine rest after that arduous journey and back? No Chance! She wanted to scale the highest peaks from each continent around the world. She had completed four by May 2015 - Everest in Asia, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe and Kosciuszko in Australia. On December 25th, 2015 she scaled Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, which is the tallest mountain in the southern and western hemispheres. This was peak number five for Arunima.
The Denali Peak in North America being the most expensive at 55 lakhs for the climb and the toughest test of climbing Vinson Massif, the highest peak in Antarctica are now in her sights.
Most believe that she will do the 7-summit challenge that very few have accomplished in the world.
Today she runs a non-profit school for underprivileged handicapped children. The school, Shahid Chandrashekhar Azad Khel Academy, doesn’t have a building, a field or a court. She takes permission to get the inmates to play in other people’s fields. Her students, as she says, are her life and for training, she would need 25 crores to bring the project into reality, and despite not having even 25000 to her name she remains undeterred. In her words she says “When I have climbed the world’s highest peak on one leg, what is 25 crores?”
What can one say to such optimism and faith?
Some time back she received the Padma Shri from President Pranab Mukherjee and she has also released her memoirs aptly titled ‘Born again on the mountain: A story of losing everything and finding it back’
Fitting that we end with her own quote that she herself wrote:
I reiterate this small poem I wrote when the journey gets too blurry:
Rehne de aasma, zameen ki talash kar
Rehne de aasma, zameen ki talash kar
Sab kuch yahi hai, kahin aur na talash kar
Jeene ke liye, ek kami ki talash kar.
[Let the sky be and seek the earth
Let the sky be and seek the earth
All is here, search not elsewhere
To live beautifully, seek life in dearth]
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Failure is not when we fall short of achieving our goals. It is when we don’t have goals worthy enough.