‘Being called bechari was a turning point’
Arunima Sinha is the first woman amputee in the world to have scaled Mount Everest. She hails from Ambedkar Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh, and difficulties and controversies have been part of her life. But she has learnt to take the good along with the bad. The one-time volleyball player, who will be celebrating her 26th birthday on 19 June, is guided by her own maxim ~ “agar sapne sakaar karne hain to zakhmo ko kured kar rakho” (if you want to realise your dreams, you must keep your wounds fresh). She spoke to ARCHANA SRIVASTAVA on her stupendous feat and the high and lows of her life. Excerpts:

What was the first thought that struck you once you were at the summit of Mount Everest? How long did you stay there?
I reached the summit on Tuesday, 21 May, 2013 at 10.55 am and stayed on top for about 20 minutes. The moment I reached the summit, I thought of God, my country, my family, the people who gave me blood while I was recuperating in the hospital after being thrown out of a running train, and the innumerable disabled or ill-advantaged children who have a desire to achieve the insurmountable but are unable to do so owing lack of funds and other difficulties.

Could you recount the incident that left you incapacitated for life?
It was the intervening night of 11-12 April 2011. I was on my way to Delhi for an interview for a position with the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force). I was travelling by Padmavat Express and was thrown out of the running train by some miscreants when I resisted while they were trying to snatch my chain. I fell on the tracks and my left leg had to be amputated below the knee, while the right one has a rod in it.

Life must have appeared tough at that point of time, given that you had aspirations of becoming a renowned volleyball player?
The four months that I spent in King George&’s Medical College in Lucknow and AIIMS in Delhi were horrifying; I could see my career as a player crumble before me. The word bechari was the one most commonly used by all for me. However, it was this very word that brought about a certain determination in me; I wanted to prove to all and sundry that I would not be an object of their pity.
At the same time, the controversy surrounding my being a national level player was doing the rounds. All this provided me with the strength to break out.

Why the desire to scale Mount Everest. How did you train yourself for it?
 As I said, I wanted to prove many things to myself and to others as well. Maine socha life ka sabse tough kaam karna hai (I thought I had to do the toughest job in life).
Climbing Mount Everest is a very tough task, and the odds against you rise manifold when you have a prosthetic left leg and a rod in the right one. I began training on 3 March, 2012 at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. I later went under the wings of Bachendri Pal (the first woman to scale Mt Everest). Unke under training karne par to murda bhi uth kar khada ho jayega (Her training can infuse life in dead bodies). The financial aspect was taken care of by Tata Steel, as climbing Mount Everest requires about Rs 35-40 lakh.

During the trek, were there moments when you thought you should give up?
Yes, there were quite a few such moments. Reaching the summit took 52 days, during which my prosthetic leg came off twice. When I was on the Hillary strip, close to the summit, the oxygen supply waned. Everybody said I should begin to descend; however, I was adamant. People from the agency I was climbing with contacted Bachendri Pal, and requested her to ask me to begin descending. Pal, however, asked them to arrange for oxygen, and said I would succeed if I had oxygen supply. Luckily, there was a foreigner who had decided to discontinue his ascent. I took his oxygen cylinder, and the rest is history.

You have been felicitated by many organisations. A California-based director has shown interest in making a movie based on your life; a road is likely to be named after you in your home district and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has honoured your achievement with a cheque of Rs 25 lakh. What now?
I have plans to open an academy in Unnao for disadvantaged and economically weak children. There are many more Arunimas waiting for their achievements to be recognised. I assure you that if things go according to plan, children of the academy will be seen in international level games by 2020. Remember, I was a player, I am a player and will always remain a player.