I saw her in my gym a couple of days ago, lifting weights and training hard despite the fact she was in a wheelchair and obviously paralyzed from the waist down. Congratulating her on her spunky spirit, I was floored when she said: "Hi I'm Deepa. Pray for me, I'm training for the Rio Paraplegic Olympics and we are leaving tomorrow."
"The Prime Minister hasn't mentioned us in his Mann ki Baat or anywhere, whereas he met all the able-bodied Olympic participants... Even the Sports Minister hasn't met us."
Google revealed that Deepa Malik was an incredible embodiment of the human spirit. Paralyzed by successive spinal tumours in the late '90s, she decided to challenge the odds by becoming a super athlete. Embarking on her sports career in her late 30s, she dazzled the athletic fraternity by winning 58 state and national level honours, 17 international awards and breaking two Asian world records for javelin. The Arjuna awardee also set a Limca record for driving eight consecutive days across the high Himalayas at 18,000ft despite serious medical challenges.
Deepa is our hope for Olympic gold in short put and she inspired me to write this piece because of the complete radio silence on the Rio Paralympic Games, which will be held from 7-18 September. "I'm disappointed that the Prime Minister hasn't mentioned us in his Mann ki Baat or anywhere, whereas he met all the able-bodied Olympic participants and wished them. Even the Sports Minister hasn't found time to meet us. There is no public awareness that 19 of us disabled athletes are representing India in Rio, so there is no sponsorship. But we are not disappointed, we believe we will bring back more medals than our sports stars did at Rio," says a confident Deepa.
At a time when our media is filled with bad news from Kashmir, when a third of the country is under water, when mosquito-borne epidemics are ravaging the people, isn't it time to highlight some positive news? "If you take Sakshi out of Malik and Karmakar out of D(i)eepa then you are left with Deepa Malik!" she smiles humorously, "and I think I have a very lucky name!" She is betting that this time round she will win the gold that was denied to her on the previous points system at the IPC Athletics World Championships in 2011.
"If you take Sakshi out of Malik and Karmakar out of D(i)eepa then you are left with Deepa Malik!"
Winning is important to Deepa because Olympians who win medals can raise money to train others and she is determined to start a sports academy for wheelchair-bound Indian women. "It's been a very difficult journey for all us," she says, "but we are determined to make India proud." The daughter and wife of two distinguished army officers, Deepa's ringtone sings "Saare Jahan se Accha" and I am betting she will realize her dream of snagging gold and making India proud. Her determination is simply awesome. You can wish her well @DeepaAthlete on Twitter.