Sunday, January 31, 2016

India’s First Blade Runner

Major DP Singh lost his right leg as a result of the Kargil War. Today he is a runner as well as an inspirational speaker

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the start of the Spice Cost Marathon in Kochi, in November, 2015, Uday Bagde, a participant from Ahmedabad, had a moment's hesitation. A member of an all-India group called The Challenging Ones, he turned to founder Major DP Singh and said, “Sir, is it necessary to wear shorts while running, instead of trackpants?”

Singh replied that runners can only wear shorts. So, Bagde took off his track pants and set out in his white shorts. Immediately he caught the eye, because he was wearing a prosthetic.

Later, when he completed his quota of five kilometres, he told Singh, “In this short span, I have changed as a person. Earlier, I was shy about showing my prosthetic in public. But during the run people told me, 'Oh my God, you are an inspiration for me.'”

Singh is also an inspiration. He is India's original blade runner, in the manner of South Africa's famed running champion Oscar Pistorius. “When I wear a blade, it gives me the same posture as a normal runner,” he says. “One part of the blade works as a toe. It gives a push, and helps me to move forward.”

Thus far, Singh has taken part in 18 half marathons (21 kms) in places like Mumbai, Delhi, Kochi, Chandigarh, Ladakh, and Sangla. Incidentally, these type of limbs are not manufactured in India. Singh has imported one, made of carbon fibre, at a cost of Rs 7 lakh.

The Delhi-based runner began running six years ago. “I wanted to do everything that a normal person can do,” says Singh. “The most difficult aspect for someone, without a leg, is to run, and to run long distance. Once I began running I felt an immense self-confidence.”

And there was a changed attitude among the people towards Singh. “There were no longer any looks of sympathy,” he says. “Instead, they quickly accepted me as a normal person. Running also releases endorphins in the brain. As a result, I feel good and happy. And in control.”

But Singh had experienced moments when things went haywire. On the morning of July 15, 1999, he was part of an Army team taking part in 'Operation Vijay' during the Kargil War between India and Pakistan. A bomb burst just five feet away from him at the Chicken Neck section in Akhnoor. By the time, he regained consciousness, the situation looked grim. Gangrene had set in. Despite the best treatment in several hospitals, the doctors had no option but to amputate his leg.

And his first thought was highly unusual. “I felt that now I will be able to see life from a disabled person's eyes, and do something about it,” says Singh. “Today, I believe that this is the path chosen by the Almighty himself, so I cannot question Him at all.”

Singh carries on in this vein: “My present life is much better. Had I not been injured, I would have been a mediocre person. But because of the amputation, I touched the nadir of my life. And from there I bounced back. It is the bouncing back that makes you a different person.”

It gave him the confidence to start an organisation for amputees called The Challenging Ones. “The name comes from being physically challenged,” says Singh. “We wanted to convert members, through sports, to become a challenger in life, and help them adopt a positive attitude.”

There are 800 members from all over India. For the Kochi race, Singh was able to persuade IDBI-Federal Life Insurance to provide air tickets and five-star hotel accommodation for 18 runners from all over the country. Out of them, 11 were coming out of their home city for the first time since their amputation. “It was an emotional moment for them,” says Singh. “I felt happy that I could do my bit for my fellow amputees.”

In his day-to-day life Singh is an inspirational speaker. He has talked about his life experiences at companies, school and colleges. “Now, you tell me, wasn't my amputation a good thing?” says Singh, with a smile. 

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