Title: Deepa Malik- woman of substance

 Introduction- An inspiration to thousands Deepa Malik’s journey has been fraught with pain, compromise, promises,support, admiration, accolades, awards and yes, anger. Let’s get to know this ‘Woman of Substance’, in conversation with Anita Hada Sangwan.

Deepa Malik is the first WOMAN to be awarded an Arjuna Award in the severely handicapped category F-53. SHE WAS THE MEMBER OF THE CORE GROUP OF ATHLETES SHORTLISTED FOR LONDON 2012, BUT DELAYED VISAS CAME IN WAY OF HER PARTICIPATION. HAD SHE GONE FOR LONDON PARALYMPICS SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST EVER WOMAN TO REPRESENT THE COUNTRY AT PARALYMPICS EVER SINCE THE INCEPTION OF THESE GAMES IN 1968 . The first Paralympic Games were held in Rome, Italy in 1960 and featured 400 athletes from 23 countries.

She won two gold medals (javelin and discus) at the Malaysian Open Athletics Championship in April 2012 and achieved a world ranking of No.3. Her tally of medals is impressive – two new Asian records at the World Games at Sharjah in December last year and two bronze medals including a silver medal at the World athletics Championship, apart from a bronze medal at the Para – Asian games held in China. Deepa has never allowed her disability to hamper her. She has also entered the Limca book of records THRICE, for feats in swimming biking and rallying.

Let us talk to the absolutely beautiful Deepa Malik.

Q. What started you on this journey after your absolutely horrifying medical experience, when most people would have just given up?

A.  Well, actually to be frank it was anger. When I had my tumour surgeries and became paralysed, it seemed I ceased to exist as a healthy person in the eyes of even my own friends. The wheelchair, which was to aid me, became my albatross in the eyes of people. This journey started to prove to one and all that being wheelchair bound does not mean the end of life, we are not sick people, we are not patients, we are wheel chair users and that’s it. We can easily have a fit and healthy life.  I felt a need to generate motivation among wheelchair users, so that they live a more wholesome life. This inspired me, and I set out on a mission called ‘ability beyond disability’ in my own little way.

Q. What are sports that you play?

A. Basically cricket and basketball in walking days, but post paralysis, started as a swimmer in S-1 ( India ) and SB-3 ( International ) Swimming Disability Category, the first and only woman in India in this swimming category. Lately all major international achievements have been in athletics field events- Javelin, Discus, Shot-put In F-53 Disability category.

Q. Wow, What medical/health issues do you face?

A. I am international disability category F53, which is actually Chest below paralysis. The spinal cord injury level being T-1 to T-7. I have chest below paralysis, no bladder and bowel control, zero sensation below chest level, half the lungs inflate, body temperature control and blood circulation very poor, no torso balance, only arms and shoulders functional but three spinal surgeries and about 180 stitches between shoulder blades in upper spinal region making long sitting and training n driving with arms more challenging. Besides I have to continuously be under tumor management treatment which is pretty draining. Also a case of hypo thyroid…and poor digestion due to gall bladder removeL surgery makes maintaining body weight a big challenge sitting on the chair.

Q. You have already achieved so much as a sportsperson; I will not be presumptuous to define you simply as a woman or a paraplegic, but what next?

A. I will continue to explore new platforms to carry on the shock treatment for the society to realize that we too can achieve and enjoy outdoors . Among my immediate wish list is snorkeling, a stunt on my ATV Bike, may be do a ‘darr ke aage jeet hai’ advertisement and on a serious note a driving and a sports academy for wheelchair users. If some corporate CSR takes me seriously and of course my sports journey continues till I have the authority to get the five Olympics rings tattooed on me after formal participation.

Q. In a cricket crazy nation like India have you got the recognition you deserve? 

A. Every sport has their own level of popularity, it is not correct to outright discard the nation and restrict them as cricket crazy. It is the hard work of the cricket federations to make it popular, to give it more exposure on media and reach it to the common man. The media should give coverage and I guess they do, at least I have no complaints. My every achievement has been applauded aloud by media, its just that we in Paralympics have to be more consistent in achieving and our federation should have a more systematic P R.

Q. How do you manage the daily logistics and finances?

A. Honestly, right now there is no source of income. I am living on the medal’s cash awards, job on my sports achievement has been announced by Haryana government and its in process since my Asian Games medal in 2010. It was a new policy being introduced under the scheme of Inclusion, so the initiation is taking a bit of time. It is important for CSR and companies to take our sports seriously and come forward to adopt the para-sports persons under their sponsorships. I was lucky to get some support from the UB GROUP but more support is needed to sustain the stay and training, especially at a time when government camps are not on.

Q. What support do you expect from the Indian government and are you getting even a part of it?

A. Indian government and MYAS has some very fine policies chalked out for PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED SPORTS.. the training and cash awards etc are all at par…the only thing which needs to be refined is the long term training plans made by the federation and get the approvals from the ministry well in advance to avoid delayed visa work which can be a disaster …yes one area where govt could look into is better infra structure for wheel chair athletes and more trained coaches in disability sports.

Q. What motivates you on a daily basis ?

A. I believe that life is one festival that can be celebrated every day and I do just that. A case of repeated tumor, I have learnt that each day is a bonus in my life and bonus on anything is meant to be enjoyed, so I live to the fullest.

Q. You once ran a restaurant , Dees Place, any plans to re open it?

A. No, I don’t think I will restart it as a restaurant instead may be convert the infrastructure into a shelter home for a few physically challenged under privileged children

Q. What do you dream about ?

A. A completely wheel chair accessible India…where we don’t have to stay back because ‘hum wanha kaise jaayenge ya phir chair wanha kaise jaayegi?’

Q. Who is your biggest support?

A. FAMILY N FRIENDS IN CAPITALS. not just one member in particular. My success story is thanks to the team work around me and everyone around me has contributed in some way or the other by keeping me in a positive state of mind, by believing in my crazy ideas and activities.

Q. Any regrets ? What do you miss?

A. It’s  only when I got paralyzed that i realized what all I could have done when I was walking.  I found focus in my disability, but as a walking person, I was living such a superfluous life. Like everybody I was entangled in what am I going to wear at a party or how am I going decorate my house. I never really took out time for my passions, hobbies or never thought of giving back to the society. I wish I had learnt it then I would have been able to work more with legs intact.

Q. What will we see Deepa Malik doing next ?

A. Well first and foremost is steps towards financial stability because I can’t eat or drink my medals and certificates. Hard currency is required for sustenance, if a job/sponsorship comes my way , I can focus on my sports training and giving a better life to my kids. My husband had to take pre-mature retirement from army to support and assist my sports journey. The practical aspects of life have to be solved.

One word answers – My favourites :

I walked away after the interview, spellbound and awed by this beautiful and gorgeous woman. Deepa Malik, I salute you