After losing three limbs in an accident, how Pooja Agarwal became a world-class para-shooter
A wintry day in December 2012 turned Pooja Agarwal’s life upside down. She had gone to see off her husband at New Delhi Railway Station when a crowd pushed her off the platform onto the railway track.
She was run over by a train, and life as she knew, changed forever.
Pooja lost three limbs in a trilateral amputation and was left with the use of only her right hand. Till then, the 27-year-old was in the prime of her life, enjoying her work as a college lecturer and looking forward to an exciting future.
“It was devastating, and I asked myself constantly, “ab kya hoga” (What will happen now),” she tells HerStory in a conversation that relives her life that has now come full circle.
Pooja is now an acclaimed para-shooter, winning medals for the country both at national and international levels.
Life throws a curveball
Recalling those terrible days, she says, “I started to think what if was my right hand had been amputated instead of my left, my struggle would have been worse. So I thought of pushing myself with what I had.”
Slowly, Pooja learnt to use her right hand to do small tasks, and her only thought at the time was how to get a job and become financially independent.
Her marriage was over, and all she was left with was her determination to not let fate come in the way of her dreams and ambitions. She began studying for competitive exams from the hospital bed and continued to do so even after she was discharged.
Soon, her hard work paid off when she joined Bank of Allahabad (now Indian Bank after a merger) at its Gujranwala town branch in June 2014.
“It was difficult and challenging at the same time. The first hurdle was to bring back the confidence I had before the accident. I worked on it with the help of my colleagues and soon learnt to deal with customers,” she says.
Pooja’s journey had just begun. Eight months later, her friend and mentor Pragya suggested she try her hand at sports. She laughed it off saying she couldn’t even work. But when she went to the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC) and saw people playing basketball from their wheelchairs, her interest was piqued.
“They were laughing and happy. I began studying different sports I could practise and chose table tennis. In between, I also attended an introductory shooting camp for para-athletes, and it sounded very interesting,” she adds.
At one time, Pooja was juggling office, table tennis, and shooting. One day she fainted at the bank and was advised to take up only one sport. She chose shooting and participated in her first competition — the pre-nationals — in 2016.
November 8, 2016 — the day she returned after winning the gold — was one she will never forget.
“The Prime Minister announced demonetisation and things changed overnight. As a banker, we had to put in longer hours. I also had to train for the Nationals in December, and I was coming home after midnight every day. In between, I also lost my father. It was a harrowing time,” she says.
Pooja left for the Nationals a day before the event and returned home with a gold.
Surmounting different challenges
Despite her successes, Pooja was still shooting with a borrowed pistol. Later, Vipin Vig, the Managing Director of Sportscraftz, gave her his son’s pistol, with which she won the individual silver at the International World Cup in Al Ain, UAE, in 2017.
Soon, she received funding from the bank and got her own pistol. She succeeded at the Bangkok Championships, qualified for the Asian Games and World Championships, and won a bronze at the Croatia World Cup.
Her recent win was in June 2021 at the World Cup in Lima, Peru, where she won two team silver medals.
Pooja travels 40 km from her residence in Rohini to the Tughlaqabad shooting range in Delhi for practice. Sometimes, travelling one way takes two-three hours.
“My practice depends on my office schedule, but I am fortunate to receive support from the branch, the zonal head, and the upper management. There is always a positive push for women employees,” she says.
Her mother travels with her for competitions, but sometimes she has to skip a few because of funding issues.
An inspiration for many
With “learning” as a constant motto in life, Pooja started her own YouTube channel, Pooja Agarrwal PCreations, where she posts hacks on how to do small tasks as a disabled person.
“During a competition, I was folding my T-shirts with one hand. My coach saw this and wondered how I could do it so fast. It was a method I had invented to make life easy,” she says of the idea behind her videos.
“During the lockdown, after my office work and a little training, I found I had time on my hands. My friends pushed me to start this channel. Though I am not consistent, since I edit my videos, I do make the effort to post what I can,” she says.
Pooja is also up for a challenge, and when a viewer asked if she could post a video of chopping onions and tomatoes with one hand, she did just that.
An adventure-sports buff, she has also tried her hand at river-rafting and scuba diving and wants to bungee jump and attempt paragliding.
“People ask if I am trying to prove something by doing all this. I can only say I like to do this and that’s why I am doing it,” she adds.
Her goal is to achieve more wins as a para-shooter and bring laurels for Indian Bank and the country.
Ask her what keeps her going, and she throws a popular Hindi film dialogue in return.
“Hum girte bhi hain, hum rukte bhi hain, hum rote bhi hain, hum teherte bhi hain, par hum chalna nahin chodte (We fall, we stop, we cry, we saunter, but we never stop walking.)”
Pooja wants to continue “walking” by learning all that the Universe has to offer.