When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
It takes a lot of courage, commitment and dedication to make your dreams come true. Scratching an itch is never easy and sometimes, it is even harder than usual. For those of us cooped up in our comfort zone, walking a tight rope between desire and leisure- this is an eye opener. We bring you the story of three incredible people who truly embody motivation and hope. Dealt with life’s hardest cards, their circumstances were tragic but their stories are not. Read on to find out how they turned their hardships to victories and what pushes them forward despite all odds.
Adil Ansari-National Paralympic Swimming Champion
Hailing from Bhiwandi, Mumbai, this 35 year old, runs a small-time medicine distribution business. Apart from this, he is a National Paralympic Swimming Champion. When pools declined to allow him to practice swimming, he moved to archery and yet again, he emerged as a champion. The list doesn’t end here! He also has his name etched in the Limca Book of records for a 300 kms ride on a scooter and driving to all the four Indian Metros in 7 days 12 hours 30 minutes covering a distance of 6016 kms.
Indeed, a true adventure lover! But, life had some other plans for him…
In the year 2002, Adil met with an accident that changed his life forever. During one of his usual diving adventures in a river, he suffered a grave spinal cord injury after his head hit a stone. Describing his ordeal for survival he shares, “For almost a month, I was unconscious and lost sensation in 90 percent of my body. The doctors at the ICU had given up, but I guess prayers of my family and friends brought me back to life. I was alive but I was now a quadriplegic- paralyzed from the neck down for life.”
The accident forced him to be wheelchair-bound and left him and his family shattered.
Things were not simple for me and my family. It was a massive jolt! It was tough to face the truth, but when I began to accept my life on the wheelchair, bit by bit things started getting better. For initial 2 to 3 years, I just could not do anything which made my mother too upset and hence I decided to do something about it.
He made a commitment to himself, “It is difficult to live when your 90 percent of body is not functioning. Instead of living a dead life, I decided to transform myself. Passing Class 12 exams built my confidence and made me believe that – Yes, I can face any challenge! Next step was to be financially independent and hence I started a dairy farm. I modified my Honda Activa and learnt to drive a car too. After 4 years of struggle, I became one of the few quadriplegics in India to own a driving license. Along with all of this, my friends encouraged me to play sports. Playing paralympic sports truly changed my life.”
The accident may have disrupted his usual way of life, but, Adil managed to rise above the teething troubles.
He went for his Passion – Swimming.
He loved swimming since his childhood and his first major step towards reclaiming his life was when he went back to swimming after five years of the accident. Observing other differently-abled people in action pushed him to give his passion a shot. He started taking training, “One of my friend – Shams Alam coached me for swimming which gradually made me realise that I can do it! My confidence was sky high and this pushed me to aim for the championships. I can move my hands but not fingers and with much effort I can lift my body too. Owing to this condition, I can swim the back stroke.”
Shams Alam- The Coach who inspired himself and others
Five years ago, Mohammed Shams Alam Shaikh, a mechanical engineer by profession, was also a passionate black belt karate player. But life came in the way.
After getting diagnosed with spine tumour and undergoing multiple operations in 2010, Shams was left paraplegic.
Shams Alam has been a sports enthusiast all his life. Even as a kid he was very agile and athletic. He started Karate in 2002 under the guidance of Sensei Umesh Murkar, and played extensively through district, state and national championships. His life was extensive strength oriented movement. He had felt power like no other and suddenly after surgery he was on a wheelchair. It was a big fall.
5 years later he resumed practicing karate on a wheelchair. Yes! There is a wheelchair category in the International karate championship. It was in Mumbai February 2014 and he won! It was the first time in a very long time that he felt all was not lost. He felt undefeated.
A little more practice and faith, he started swimming. It was recommended for his muscles at first but turns out he loved it, and he was good. All excited, he started training regularly, gained speed and strength and some much required confidence.
It was tough to compete at first but he trained hard and won 3 gold medals in the National Paralympic championships in Karnataka. Infact, he took it up a notch higher and attempted a 6 km open sea swimming event and finished in 1 hour 40mins 28 seconds becoming the first paraplegic with 100% disability to do so. It was the most challenging event of his life but it made him feel alive!
A lot of people asked him why he still competes when there isn’t really a lot of prize money or incentive involved. Training for events requires immense dedication and time, which might mean that one cannot maintain a full time well paid job. An athlete’s life in our country is very tough, so one can only imagine what a para athlete’s life may be. People now are aware of para athletes due to the Paralympics. He proudly says – I cannot stop, I love to swim and I can compete. I want to train harder and consistently to reach the Paralympics. I believe people don’t lack strength they lack will. Trust me I have the will.
For Adil, it was not merely a sport, rather the art of sport itself that pushed him forward. Along with being a member of Maharashtra State Paralympic Swimming Association, he also bagged 2 gold medals at the 14th National Paralympic Swimming Championship in the categories of 50-metre freestyle and backstroke men’s national championship held in Indore in November 2014. Unfortunately, his tryst with swimming had to end soon when denied practice in local pools owing to safety reasons cited by the authorities. This did not stop him from playing sports, after the disappointment in the swimming front, he switched to archery.
Sports made his life active. “But, due to the problems related to practice in swimming, I had to give up swimming. I was left disappointed but then I met my friend who is into archery and he encouraged me to just go for it. It was little easy for me to pursue swimming as it was in water, but archery is played under the sun and due to my medical condition, my sweat glands have stopped working and hence I cannot bear heat. Still, I was determined and didn’t let anything stop me, after rigorous training, finally I was confident to pursue archery and aim for the championships yet again. I already won a gold medal in the First Senior Para Recurve, Compound & Indian Round National Archery Championship held recently in Rohtak (Haryana). Archery has become my true love now”!
What are your scratches?
In the year 2013, I set a new record for an Indian quadriplegic and hence found a mention in the Limca Book of Records for a 300 km ride on my customized scooter from Bhiwandi to Nasik to Azad Maidan, Mumbai which took almost 14 hours.
In the same year, I won a silver medal in men’s double for Maharashtra in Para Badminton Tournament.
I also drove a modified car to the four Indian Metros (Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai ) all by myself in 7 days 12 hours 30 minutes which is a distance of 6016 kms and achieved a new Limca book of record in Jan-Feb 2015. For this journey, I embraced a high-protein diet and a fitness regime. My car was a specially designed hand-controlled vehicle sponsored by the Access4all Social Foundation, an organisation that works for the accessibility for the differently-abled people. During my journey, I spread awareness on the need for cities to implement differently-abled friendly infrastructure.
What’s next on your Itch List?
My dream is to participate in the Asian Para Archery Championships in Bangkok and thereafter to qualify for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
But unfortunately my equipment is quite old and to participate in international championships, I will need modern equipment. Due to lack of funds, I am not able to buy one and neither the state government is funding athletes like us. I am afraid I might have to miss the Bangkok Championship owing to this.
I am trying hard to get sponsors to buy a new Archery Equipment. On this front, ClassHopr Wellness Private Limited have come ahead to help him raise fund via Ketto and Triathlon, to be held in association with Hindustan Times in Mumbai on 13th of November. Along with Adil, ClassHopr is also helping Shams Alam and Swapnali Tambe in raising fund to make their dreams come true.
Swapnali Tambe: The Professional Swimmer Without Arms!
Swapnali took to water like a fish, she was a natural Swimmer. At first she learned the Backstroke and very quickly improved her technique. The challenge then was to learn the Freestyle, Breaststroke and the Butterfly which highly require the use of arms. In the absence of arms, these strokes would require immense strength in her spinal and chest muscles. Nevertheless, she was determined to learn them anyway, she trained hard and built good strength. She found her footing and soon enough her confidence!
At the tender age of 10, she participated in her first 50m Backstroke and 100m Freestyle at Kondhwa, Pune and she won her first medal.
Born into a humble family from a village of Urlikanchan in the outskirts of Pune, her father owns a Pan shop and her mother is a home-maker. They are very encouraging towards Swapnali, when she was born, her disability stunned them, and they were scared for their child and her life ahead. But watching her compete and fight for what she loves makes them believe in miracles.
Later in the year of 2015, she stood 1st in the National Competition under the Disability category held in Aurangabad.
She stood first in the Freestyle category and 2nd in the Backstroke. She is looking forward to compete in the Nationals in Rajasthan this November. Her relentless attitude and never give up spirit is inspiring and commendable. Her dream is to participate in the Japan Paralympics in the year 2020 and win.
Nothing could stop these differently-abled champions to go for their dreams even after some major downfalls. Read here for some more unbelievable adventurers who really pushed the boundaries of comfort!
They have got us all fired up. What about you? Excited about swimming but worried cause you are a newbie? Well, fear not. We have got you covered! Head here to get a lowdown of the basics of swimming.