Spinal tumour, 183 stitches and three surgeries could not deter Deepa's silver medal
NEW DELHI: Deepa Malik has always loved challenging herself. Be it in motorsport or swimming or athletics, she pushed the boundaries. The little issues of having to overcome a spinal tumour, getting 183 stitches in between her shoulder blades, and undergoing three surgeries have not been deterrents. But as she herself puts it, the silver medal in shot put at the Rio Paralympics was perhaps her biggest challenge and she passed it with flying colours.
“I seriously had no clue that I created history (she became the first ever Indian woman to bag a medal at the Paralympic Games). I was so focused on my performance and just wanted to do well here,” she told Express from Rio.
“Having participated in the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Championships and the Open World Games, only the Paralympic Games was left, so for me it was completing a journey. I just wanted to touch the highest point possible, and the Paralympics is the crown jewel for any para-athlete. A lot of people said aapko toh Arjuna Award mil gaya hai, toh ye sab kyun (you’ve already won the Arjuna Award, so why push yourself further)? But I said I want to finish off my journey with the Paralympics and show the world that people with disabilities can also achieve so much. I wanted to be a voice for para-athletes,” added Deepa.
Having taken up shot put only in 2009, the 45-year-old knew time was short. “I knew I had set a very difficult target for myself. And reaching the podium here in Rio involved a lot of sacrifices. I had to change my diet, routine and discipline. My husband had to leave his job so as to help me prepare and my kids had to take care of themselves and the house all alone, so it hasn’t been easy. I thank the government, Sports Authority of India (SAI) and sports ministry. But the best part was that the Paralympic Committee of India was reinstated as the national body and that allowed us to participate under the Indian flag,” noted the mother of two.
The wife of veteran cavalier Colonel Bikram Singh added that a court case regarding her quota hampered her gold chances. “I was confident of a medal as I had practised hard. But a fellow athlete could not digest the fact that I had beaten her to the national quota for the category (F53 event) and took me to court over this. She had been training at the Olympic centre in Finland, but still couldn’t match my throws. Fortunately, with Russia’s ban, she also made the trip. But that period of running around the court affected my preparations a bit and my silver could easily have been gold had it not been for that case,” she revealed.
Having left everything at the age of 40 to join the training camp, Deepa had to endure a lot to learn the sport. “I gave up a full-fledged catering business to join the camp. But it wasn’t the end of it. I was unclear of the various categories that we athletes come under and also the technicalities of the sport. All that was a bit confusing, but CWG was my training ground to get used to the discipline. And I’m grateful for such an event.”
She added that her strength was always javelin throw, but if she had to make the Paralympics, she had to take up shot put. “In the five years after joining the camp, the competition for javelin became much tougher. So shot put was my way into the Paralympics contingent,” concluded Deepa.