The undaunted hero: from a soldier in battle to a soldier in sportShinjini Chowdhury
Suresh Kumar Karki suffered a spinal cord injury, got medically boarded out, and became a professional sportsperson.
One is frequently inclined to dismiss stories of undefeated soldiers as overly optimistic narratives until the real heroes come along and restore one’s faith in that ever-burgeoning iron resilience.
At 28, Naik Suresh Kumar Karki suffered an injury to his spinal cord that would change his life forever. From safeguarding his country’s pride in warfare, he turned to defending national honour in sport. All because of a freak accident—he did not take the bullet for his team in the literal sense of battle, but was in a car crash while trying to save a wounded friend after an insurgency attack.
Years later and now a paraplegic, his optimism is infectious. He never once speaks of his disability except to tell me of everything he has done since his injury. “There are many heroes at our rehabilitation centre,” he emphasises. One does not doubt that Suresh is one of them.
One long road
In July 2004, Suresh was serving in the 2/9 Gorkha Rifles which was then posted in Assam. A soldier was wounded by a bullet during an insurgency, and Suresh was taking his friend to Guwahati Army Hospital in an army ambulance. The ambulance met with an accident with a civilian passenger bus an hour away from the hospital.
The driver and nurse died on the spot. Suresh fell off the vehicle on to the street. “I don’t remember why and how I fell off. Perhaps I jumped off. I have no memory. But I survived,” recalls the 43-year-old. Colleagues travelling in the accompanying pilot car took Suresh and the patient, who, miraculously, was unharmed by the accident, to a nearby civilian hospital and then, to Army Hospital.
From Guwahati, Suresh was taken to Command Hospital, Kolkata. Nothing could be done for the damaged nerves, but he underwent surgery due to dislocated ribs. “They put grafting rods in my body. I still have rods in me,” he tells me over a telephonic chat from Mumbai airport on his way to Thailand for an international badminton tournament.
After that, he was shifted to Command Hospital, Lucknow, and then, to Military Hospital, Pune. In Pune, Suresh received further treatment and, while with the hospital, completed a course in industrial services from Pune University. He often lost hope, he says, as he was confined to the bed and to medical care for months on end. “I couldn’t move. I had to be turned on my side every now and then to pre-empt any skin sores.” Pune, however, brought a turn in his life. He worked at Military Hospital and, on retirement, relocated to Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre, Kirkee in 2011.
It is here that Suresh now lives with his wife and their sons. He speaks cheerily of Rohan, who scored 76 percent in his Class 12 board examinations this year, and Samir, who is an eighth-grader at Army School. “Samir is like me,” he laughs. “He plays too much.”
Once a soldier, always a soldier
At the rehabilitation centre, Suresh plays lawn tennis, badminton, and table tennis. He participates in swimming and marathons. He plays basketball at national and international levels. Recently, in April 2017, he won the silver medal at the Uganda Para-Badminton International Tournament. He played at the Thailand Para-Badminton Tournament in May 2017, and then in Bangkok in June. Till date, he has participated in 16 singles and 21 doubles, and has 18 national and four international medals under his belt.
For Suresh, the challenge is not a lack of motivation or strength of support, but finances. He has to participate in these open international para-badminton tournaments at his own expense if he wishes to continue his game. He aims to represent India in the Paralympic Games, and for that, he needs to win more international accolades—his current world rank of 18 in para-badminton must improve further if he is to play for his country. He is on the lookout for sponsors, but also ran a crowdfunding campaign for his Thailand stint.
One reserves hope that this inspirational man and others like him find the means to express their prowess.