The year was 1999, and India was in a state of war with Pakistan. Major DP Singh, then 25-years-old, was deployed in the LoC and his battalion was posted 80 metres away from where the Pakistani Army was holed up. Breaching enemy territory and gunning down adversaries had become a routine. One day, while both the sides were engaged in firing, a mortar fell within a metre and half of where he was.
The explosion left the Major's body mangled. Shrapnel from the explosion had pierced his stomach and his legs, and he was left in a pool of his own blood. When he was rushed to the nearest hospital, Military Hospital Akhnoor, the doctors, apparently, pronounced him dead at first glance -- his wounds were that grievous.
However, as luck would have it, a senior doctor who was visiting the hospital took charge of him soon after and he was not ready to give up that easily. By the time the Major was revived and got back his consciousness, the hospital staff informed him that his right leg had developed gangrene.
A part of his leg was amputated. And his ordeal didn't end there. More surgeries ensued and doctors had to remove parts of his intestine that were damaged and were beyond repair.
Forty days of hospitalisation had reduced the Major's body weight to 28 kg.
Forty days of hospitalisation had reduced the Major's body weight to 28 kg. While speaking in SIBM Bengaluru three years ago, for a TED Talk, the Major said to the audience, "So many injuries, sometime I think we could play a game: you name a part and I will tell you which injury is there," and proceeded to show the picture below on the screen.
He spent a year in hospitals after that. "It was not all that bad. The last six months were quite entertaining," laughs Major Singh as he speaks to HuffPost India.
And not only that, sports also makes one a part of the society, includes them.
As part of his recovery, the Major started to play golf in the latter half of 2000. "Sports is the fastest way to build the correct attitude," says the Major. "And with the correct attitude, you don't feel like you are disabled or an amputee. People also tend to give you more respect. When the public sees you performing, it translates to 'action speaking louder than words'. And not only that, sports also makes one a part of the society, includes them. The perception of a society towards a physically challenged person changes and the person becomes inspiring for everyone," the Major adds.
With golf, which was still physically demanding for the Major who was only recently released from the hospital, he started to build his stamina and the ability to walk for longer durations. However, he still felt that he was not pushing himself. He then started playing squash, which is much more demanding than golf. Answering a question about the difficulty of coping with a sport that required so much stamina and agility, the Major says, "If you think like that, then everything is a problem. You just have to get over it."
With golf, which was still physically demanding for the Major who was only recently released from the hospital, he started to build his stamina and the ability to walk for longer durations.
One day, he spotted an advertisement of the Delhi Half Marathon and suddenly realised that it was an opportunity he shouldn't miss. But it wasn't easy. Artificial limbs are not made for running. So the Major used to, what he calls 'hop-run'. He took part in that half-marathon, his first, in 2009. After many excruciating hours and three half-marathons later, the Indian Army presented the Major with a blade, used mostly for running purposes.
After using a prosthetic leg for around a decade, the Major once again had another challenge in front of him. The running blades are universally used by amputees for sprints and marathons. The blades help in running by compressing and releasing with every step, giving the sprinter a bounce.
"People call us physically challenged. How are we challenged? We are challengers."
That was just the beginning. At 43, he is now a marathoner, and a motivational speaker. The Major also started a support group in 2012, called The Challenging Ones, that has more than a thousand members currently. "People call us physically challenged. How are we challenged? We are challengers. That is the purpose of the group, to help amputees with the transition of being challenged to becoming a challenger," Major Singh says. The members of the group are called Challengers. The Challenging Ones encourages differently abled people to push their limits and lead the change by action on ground.
Last year, Major Singh came up with the idea of running marathons along with differently abled people in smaller cities. It is not just a simple marathon but a cleanliness drive as well. "The Idea was to let differently abled people perform with general public to not only showcase their abilities but also to lead the cleanliness drive. Overall 11000 people participated in this last year," says the Major.
Even though things have gotten better with time, he still faces challenges time and again. Explaining how he maintains a fitness regime, the Major says, "I take more time to prepare myself. The intestinal injuries slow me down. It takes me anything from one and half to two hours to even start the workout. After the workout also, I need some time for recovery."
Major DP Singh ends the interview with a very thoughtful quote, "It is very important to take control of your mind and body. It is very difficult to change yourself. Tell me, are you changing things by leading it, by being an example? See, no one likes to change, they only try to change things. Be the change. Rightfully, only a few can lead and they will become true leader of tomorrow. Think, where do you wish to be."
You can reach out to Major DP Singh here.