How a spinal cord injury did not deter this 28-year-old from playing sports, being a delivery partner
A fall from an areca palm tree in 2019 left Kantaraj Naik with a spinal cord injury and paralysed waist down. With help from the Association of People with Disability, he started playing various sport games and won a gold medal in para climbing. Naik also works as a delivery partner for Zomato.
In 2019, Kantaraj Naik was a young 24-year-old looking forward to a future in Bengaluru, away from his village, Hosahalli Thandya, in Chikmagaluru district. He had moved to the city seven years ago, dropping out of his pre-university course (PUC), and taking up a job as a driver to supplement the family income.
His father was a farmer who grew paddy, vegetables, and areca trees on a piece of land owned by the family. But the income he generated was barely enough to make ends meet.
In 2019, by a cruel twist of fate, Naik, an agile climber of areca palm trees since he was a child, slipped and fell from a tree. He had come home from Bengaluru to spend a few months with his family before deciding what to do next.
“I was immediately taken to a hospital in Mangaluru where I was advised surgery. But the doctors said there was no guarantee that I could walk after the operation. And, that’s what happened. I had a spinal cord injury that left me paralysed waist down, and would keep me wheelchair bound for the rest of my life,” he recalls.
A light at the end of the tunnel
After spending a year in and out of the hospital, and later being confined within the four walls of his home, Naik became depressed.
“I thought my life was over, and there was no point in continuing to live this way. What could I do, as an immobile person, and always dependent on others,” he says.
But in between all this despair, Naik searched for ways in which he could help himself. In 2022, some mindless scrolling through YouTube led him to discover the Association of People with Disability (APD), an NGO based in Bengaluru. APD runs extensive programmes in rural and urban Karnataka to enable, equip, and empower children and adults with a range of disabilities.
Naik called up APD and they asked him to visit their Spinal Cord Injury Centre in Bengaluru. Accompanied by his mother, he enrolled with APD, a decision that changed his life forever, and gave him the confidence to pursue avenues he thought he never could as a disabled person.
He remembers his first visit vividly. Someone told him he would be able to walk, and he took it literally. Later, he understood, that he would be able to walk with the help of calipers to about 100-200 metres.
However, he saw many disabled people being trained to lead an independent life. This encouraged Naik and gave him hope.
“In the beginning, it was very difficult, but a three-month training course in rehabilitation taught me how to function with the help of a wheelchair–moving about, navigating up and down a ramp, washing clothes, eating, going to the restroom and also travelling by scooter,” he says. His mother left after a month, and for three months Naik managed and learned things on his own, with the help of trainers and mentors at APD.
Taking to sport
It was also during this time at APD that he was introduced to various sports. Adept at volleyball before his accident, Naik now wanted to get into good shape and give whatever he could manage, a try. So, he took up badminton, basketball, paraclimbing, and canoeing all at the same time.
“Finally, I could achieve something in life. I practised just for a day and participated in the National Para Climbing Cup in Bengaluru in 2022, and to my surprise, I won a gold medal. This spurred me on further,” he says.
However, he decided to focus more on badminton, while also trying basketball on the side. Naik has since then participated in a few competitions, and is looking forward to more.
“I am looking forward to the national selections in December,” he says. More than his disability, the lack of a sports wheelchair is curtailing his dreams at the moment.
“A sports wheelchair costs around Rs 50,000. While APD has been very supportive all through my aspirations, funding my travel and tournament expenses so far, this cost is too huge. I hope to get sponsors so that I can play for the country,” he says.
While this may be a deterrent, there is no ebb in Naik’s confidence levels or his mission to help other disabled people like him. He trains batches of people for three months at the Spinal Cord Injury Centre, helping them with rehabilitation. Seeing him, they too now have hopes of a better future.
Delivering food on weekends
On weekends, Naik works as a delivery partner for Zomato, the first disabled person from Bengaluru to work for the company.
“Neo Notion helped me with a scooter and taught me how to deliver food. I am among the 50 people with disabilities onboarded by Zomato in the city,” he says.
Fulfilling around 15-20 deliveries per day on weekends, over a 5km radius, Naik says he takes the help of other delivery partners who collect the food from the restaurants and give it to him. He rides to the customer’s location, calls them up, explains his disability and requests them to come down to collect their order.
“People have been very kind. 99% of the people who I deliver to have been very supportive,” he adds.
His aim is now to practice hard and win laurels for the country in badminton. In addition to his earnings, he receives a disability pension of Rs 1,500 from the government, but he hopes he will receive more support once he starts winning.
“My family has spent over Rs 25 lakh on my surgery and treatment. They are struggling financially. I hope I can help them lead a life without hardship,” Naik says.
Edited by Megha Reddy