A horrific accident in 2002 left Ekta Bhyan paralysed. She picked up the pieces of her life, completed her education and took up sport. Today she is a para-athlete of repute, training for the Asian Games and the Paralympics.
Like any other teenager, Ekta Bhyan had her own dreams. At 18, her goal in life was to become a doctor, but fate had other plans. In 2002, on her way to attend coaching classes for PMT (pre-medical tests) with six other girls in Delhi, a truck overturned and fell on their stationary car, twice. Five of the girls died on the spot, two survived, among whom Ekta was severely injured.
She was admitted to the Spinal Injuries Centre as she had sustained severe injuries to the spinal cord. She was paralysed shoulder-down, with partial paralysis in her upper limbs, and complete paralysis in the lower limbs. In the course of nine months, she underwent three surgeries, and at the end of it, was confined to the wheelchair.
“After I returned to my home in Hisar, Haryana, I was not sure what was not going to happen to me. People’s mind-sets and perceptions about my condition also did not help. I was 18 and a quadriplegic, and my dream of becoming a doctor was shattered,” she says.
She decided, quite reluctantly, to shift to Arts and pursue BA Honours in English, with Psychology as an elective subject. “I was hesitant in the beginning but for me, since hard work was always a given, I enjoyed the subjects and topped in Psychology in the exams. All through this, my parents were my strong pillars of support, and with encouragement, I carried on, undeterred of what I thought of my condition or what anyone else thought of me,” she says.
Ekta also completed her Masters in English, and in 2013, after working hard for three-and-a-half years, cleared the Haryana Civil Services exam.
Until then, sports was the last thing on Ekta’s mind. But the universe, as they say, conspires to make things happen. Her interview, published in a newspaper and circulated over WhatsApp, caught the attention of Arjun awardee and Paralympian Amit Kumar Saroha.
“Amit contacted me through a common friend Vivek, and asked whether I would be interested in taking up athletics. I was sceptical at the beginning what with being in a job and the disability. But he was confident I could do it,” she says.
Ekta was 30-years-old by then, but that did not deter her from training in club and discus throws. It paid off and she made her debut in 2016 in the National Para Athletics Championship at Panchkula, where she bagged a gold and a bronze. In the same year, she won a silver medal at the World Para Athletic Grand Prix in Berlin. She also set an Asian record, and currently ranks fifth in discus throw and sixth in club throw.
In the journey towards proving herself, Ekta often found people pitying her condition. “People gave all sorts of what they thought was well-meaning advice, like visit a vaid, hakim, to see if anything could be done. Disabled people are not visible in our society. I wouldn’t have done all this if not for the support of my parents,” she says.
Ekta believes that the participation of disabled women in education or government jobs is very less. They are afraid to come out into the open. “Have you seen a girl on a wheelchair visiting a mall or watching a movie in a theatre?” she asks.
She hopes her hard work and story will inspire young women to be confident and overcome their disabilities. “The more the acceptance and visibility, more opportunities will come your way.”
What keeps her going? There is no hesitation when she says, “Hard work, I am always looking to learn something new. I write, I paint, play sport… and am willing to work towards what I want.”
Ekta is now training for Asian Games that will take place in Indonesia in October, and also for the Paralympics in Tokyo in 202o. Apart from that, her aim is to contribute to the welfare of the disabled, in whatever way she can.
“At 18, I had never seen anyone on a wheelchair in my life. When the accident happened, there were times when I thought, ‘Why me?’ But I also realised I have my eyes, ears and mind left, and I could do a lot with them,” she says.
Ekta signs off with her favourite quote that is also her guiding mantra in life. “‘Life is not in your hands, but living is’. Don’t expect life to be a bed of roses, there will be challenges along the way. There will be moments that will make your life better, with hard work you change your circumstances.”