She’s a former volleyball and football player at the national level.
Aged 23, she boarded a train at Lucknow, for Delhi, on 11 April, 2011. She had boarded the train in Lucknow for Delhi where she was to attend a sports workshop. A bunch of thieves attempted to steal her bag and gold necklace. She fought back and injured one of the thieves. Then, outnumbered, she was thrown off the moving train.
She fell between the railway tracks. Her head and torso were rested in the gap between two tracks, but her legs had fallen on the opposite line. Unable to move on her own, due to serious pelvic injuries, she lay on the track awake, in great pain.
She could hear the whistle of the oncoming train, on the tracks where her legs were. She tried very hard to move her legs, but she couldn’t. The train ran over her legs. She lay on the tracks, conscious, all night, and in excruciating pain.
Open wounds attracted pests. She felt her legs be nibbled at by rodents. And still unable to move, she lay there on the cold tracks, without any medical attention, waiting for the worst to come, still very conscious of her surroundings but immobile.
The following day at dawn, she was found lying on the tracks and was helped by the villagers who carried her to the closest hospital. Although conscious and aware of what was going on in her surroundings, she could see very faintly, and was unable to speak due to the trauma. After great loss of blood, crushed bones, torn limbs and in a critical state, she was rushed to AIIMS and had to get a leg amputated, in order to live.
She recollected about the incident – “I resisted and they pushed me out of the train. I could not move. I remember seeing a train coming towards me. I tried getting up. By then, the train had run over my leg. I don’t remember anything after that…” Later, in an interview, she added the slight memory of the sensation of having felt pests nibble at her wounds.
She “had decided to get her life back right in the hospital when” she “was recovering”.
She was offered compensation of Rs. 25000 (US$420) by the Indian Sports Ministry. Following national outrage, the Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Ajay Maken announced an additional Rs. 200000 (US$3,300) compensation as medical relief, together with a recommendation for a job in the CISF. The Indian Railways also offered her a job as an apologetic compensation for the great suffering that she had endured. On 18 April 2011, she was airlifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences for further treatment, and had to spend four months there. She was provided a prosthetic leg free of cost by a private Delhi-based Indian company.
Police inquiry threw at the media a version of the story where her details did not match up. Apparently she had either attempted suicide, or had met with an accident while crossing the tracks, and not thrown off a train as she had described, said the police. Quoting that the police were lying, she fought back, and Indian Railways was ordered by the Lucknow bench of Allahabad high court to pay her an additional compensation of Rs. 500000 (US$8,400).
“When I was in the hospital, everyone was worried for me, and I realised that I had to do something in my life so that people would stop looking at me with pity”, said she. “I spoke to my elder brother and my coach about climbing the Everest, and they encouraged me”, she added.
Yuvraj Singh, the Indian cricketer inspired her too. He sent her a cheque of 1 lakh rupees, and spoke to her when she was recovering. Later, she got to know that he was diagnosed with cancer. On seeing him back in the Indian team after winning his battles against the deadly disease, she was inspired greatly and she said to herself – “that if he can get back to the team, I could do something with my life.”
She had excelled the basic mountaineering course from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashial, and she quoted that her confidence levels were further enhanced when she met the first woman to conquer the Mt Everest, Bachendri Pal, the chief of Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF). She had contacted Pal, by telephone and signed up for training under her at the Uttarkashi camp of TSAF.
She climbed the Island Peak (6150 metres) in 2012 as preparation for her ascent of Everest.
Having decided “to get her life back right in the hospital when she was recovering”, she remembered her ambition, before the climb with Susen Mahato, another ace-climber at the Foundation. Together they took nearly 17 hours to scale the mountain after spending about two months acclimatizing and going on treks in northern India and Nepal to prepare for the ascent.
She reached the summit of Mount Everest at 10:55 am on 21 May 2013, as part of the Tata Group-sponsored Eco Everest Expedition, becoming the first female amputee to scale Everest. She took 52 days to reach the summit. She also wrote a small message thanking the Almighty on a wrapped cloth and pressed it in the snow.
“She was definitely slow because of her physical condition. But her mental strength and stamina was extraordinary”, said Dawa Sherpa, the general manager at Asian Trekking, a Nepal-based company that managed her expedition. Her achievement came 15 years after the first male amputee made it to the top of Everest. Tom Whittaker from the U.K., who lost his foot in a car accident, reached the summit in May 1998.
She was congratulated by the Indian Sports Minister on her achievement. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav honoured her, the first amputee to climb Mount Everest. He handed over two cheques for an amount of Rs. 25 lakh to Sinha at a function organised at her residence in Lucknow. These included a cheque of Rs. 20 lakh from the state government and a cheque of Rs. 5 lakh on behalf of another political party. Thrilled at his patient having conquered Mt. Everest, AIIMS Trauma Centre head M.C. Misra said – “I knew that she wanted to climb the Everest but I am absolutely speechless and happy to hear that she has managed to do it so soon.”
Stating that her expedition was full of challenges, the determined young lady explained, “Every step is dangerous there. I had more problems than normal people because of my artificial leg. There was a time when the gel in my leg had slipped out and there was blood but I could not dare to either remove my gloves or bare my leg as it could have led to severe frost bites. But I took my time and fixed it up before starting to climb back again.” “I also had to get acclimatised properly otherwise there could be a splitting headache. Moreover, there was a time when little oxygen was left in my cylinder and some people advised me to stop my expedition but I did not want to give up,” she added. “I continued against all odds and managed to reach the top and then could climb down also. I was extremely careful while coming down because if you are not careful, it could become fatal,” elaborated she.
On her future plans, she said, “I want to start a sports academy for poor and physically challenged children in Unnao, UP.” The academy would be named Pandit Chandra Shekhar Vikalang Khel Academy.
This is the story of Arunima Sinha, the former sportswoman who, by sheer grit and determination, went on to become the first woman amputee to ever climb the tallest peak on the planet.