[Women’s Day] Scaling the peak: how Arunima Sinha survived amputation, climbed Mount Everest and other mountains
After losing her leg in a horrific train incident, Arunima Sinha did not let fate decide life’s course. She became the first female amputee to climb Mount Everest in 2013 and has since then summited many peaks around the world. Here’s her incredible story.
In April 2011, 24-year-old Arunima Sinha boarded the Padmavat Express from Lucknow to Delhi to write the entrance exam for the CISF. A few thugs gathered around her and started pulling at the gold chain she was wearing – a gift from her mother.
When she resisted, they threw her onto the tracks, where an incoming train ran over her left leg. And life as she knew it, changed forever.
“I had a very happy and adventurous childhood. I was born in Ambedkarnagar near Lucknow, my father was in the Army, and we had a very disciplined environment at home. After my father passed away, I was raised by my mother,” Arunima tells HerStory.
Since childhood, Arunima was inclined towards sports, enjoyed cycling and football though volleyball was her first love. She became a national volleyball player, and her aim was to join the paramilitary forces.
When life changed forever
Recalling the life-changing incident, she says, “Imagine a normal girl who did all her work using her hands and legs, and suddenly one day she loses one of her body parts. It is indeed very difficult to live the life of an amputee, but if you start looking through a different perspective, it all changes. Lying on the hospital bed, I decided to take the hardest leap in life and even thought to myself that there must be some reason why the Almighty has kept me alive even after such a traumatic incident, and it surely means that history is in the making.”
Arunima felt the immense pain amid the different reactions surrounding the incident. People wondered whether suicide was on her mind, and some went even far as insinuating that she had travelled without a train ticket.
She was anxious and angry, but she says she also felt a strange sense of reassurance – that she would go back to being normal again.
Arunima’s immediate goal and dream was big – Mount Everest - but the reaction elicited a lot of titter and jokes.
“I felt bad, but I also knew that it was a part of life because when you start thinking big, no one really supports you or your decision, but once you achieve it, everything falls into place and people begin to appreciate you. When you start directing your thoughts in one direction and convince yourself that there is no other way out, that is when you will succeed. Imagine you are made to run with a dog; you will not be able to win from him but imagine how fast you will be able to run once he starts running after you,” she says.
“Similarly, if you have options in life, your mind will be unable to decide; instead, focus on achieving one goal and you will be able to achieve it. My broken leg served as a reminder to move forward in life and achieve my goal,” she adds.
Once the decision was made, her mother told her, “In your journey if you ever feel that you might not be able to do it, just look back and feel proud of yourself that you have reached this far, it's just a matter of a few more steps and you will reach your destination.” This strong support has also been Arunima’s guiding principle in life.
Climbing the peak
Two years after the accident, Arunima reached the Everest summit on May 21, 2013. It took 18 months of rigorous training and several leaps of faith.
Since then, she has climbed several peaks across seven continents.
“I am yet to climb Denali, the highest peak in North America. Every mountain has its own set of challenges, but I believe the biggest challenge is your mental stability. There have been times in my journey towards Everest that my prosthetic leg came out, or my ankle twisted, heel came on toe, shortage of oxygen. On my journey to Mount Vinson, nobody showed confidence in me even though I had climbed so many mountains before. It’s sad sometimes to see that people don’t really trust your mental strength and start judging you with your physical capabilities,” she says.
Her biggest challenge has been to make people understand that she “could do it”.
Arunima’s life and work is the subject of special Women’s Day film aired on National Geographic Channel, showcased under 'Women of Impact' series. As the first female Indian amputee to climb Mount Everest, the film highlights her spirit and zest to achieve the impossible dreams.
According to her, while there has been some progress in the way people perceive the disabled in India, it’s still largely sympathy, and not empathetic.
“There are some sets of people who represent physically challenged people for their own good. For that, I believe there is a need for increased awareness. Though the government is doing its part, more efforts are needed from the public towards the welfare of the differently abled. In terms of my work, I have contributed to our Prime Minister's Skill India Yojana, and through it, I have trained students from various sectors such as IT, Retail, and Hospitality, and assisted them with placements while also guiding them in sports taking them to national and international levels,” she says.
Her vision is to build a sports academy for the differently abled, give them a space of their own and instill in them the confidence to play whichever sport they like.
Arunima has set her sights on the North and South Pole and is working towards it.
“I just want to tell all the young people out there - male or female, to never underestimate yourself and have utmost confidence in yourself. Just set an objective you want to accomplish and work towards it diligently. If you have a focus, you will fulfill your mission one day,” she says, as she signs off.
Edited by Megha Reddy