I have heard many wonderful and inspiring stories throughout my life, but never any as tense, emotional and motivating as the one you are about to read.
Dr. Arunima Sinha was born to a middle class family in Lucknow, India. As a young girl she became a national and international Volleyball player and represented India in tournaments around the world. Wanting to follow in her soldier fathers' footsteps, she sent off her enrollment application for the Indian Army and was invited to interview in Delhi.
Photo courtesy of YourStory.com
In 2011, then 24 years of age she set off on her journey to the army HQ. While commuting on the train between Lucknow and Delhi, she was attacked by a group of thieves. As they tried to steal her gold necklace she fought back. The group of thieves grew frustrated at this and threw her from the moving train. None of the passengers on the packed carriage intervened.
At the exact moment that she was thrown, another train was passing on the adjacent tracks. Arunima bounced against this and was thrown onto the tracks and under the wheels of the carriage. At first she had no idea that she had been injured. Still in complete shock, she tried to move herself but soon realised that one leg had been fully removed. The other leg was so severely damaged that bones were protruding and her wounds were bleeding heavily.
Arunima lay on the tracks in the darkness, throughout the night she repeatedly called for help, shouting so much she went blind. She remained on the tracks for seven excruciating hours. In that time, 49 trains passed her by, unable to see her in the darkness. By the morning, rats had gathered and began to feed on her injured leg. She had lost pints of blood. "Every second I was thinking how I could save myself" she said.
Arunima being carried to the ambulance - Photo courtesy of Deccan Herald
Defying all odds by surviving through the night, Arunima was found by a group of local villagers. A gentleman named Pintu Kaanshyap rushed her to a small district hospital, similar to a community medical centre. She was able to hear the doctors and pharmacist discussing how they had no facilities suitable to treat her severe wounds. The medical centre did not have a blood store, or any operating theater.
Arunima begged the doctors to remove the limb, and incredibly, the doctor and pharmacist both gave their own blood to save her life. Her leg was amputated without any anesthetic - the pain still haunts her to this day. She also suffered three spinal fractures and a later a steel rod was placed in her remaining leg to correct the severe damage that had been inflicted.
As the news broke and the media realised that Arunima was a national sporting hero, she was transferred to the King George Trauma Center in Delhi. This only happened due to the intervention of the Minister for Sport.
Incredibly, the media began to spread false and distressing news stories - she had "jumped off the train as she never purchased a valid ticket", or "she was rejected by her family" and even one that reported how she had attempted suicide. Repeatedly Arunima and her family spoke out against the fake news but sadly and to their dismay, nobody wanted to listen.
While recovering in her hospital bed, her sporting spirit was awakened. She made a decision to embrace her injury! She would complete something deemed impossible to raise awareness of her story - she chose to become a mountain climber.
Arunima needed to raise a massive $80,000 (approx £60k) in sponsorship to pay the Mt Everest climb fees. But she also needed to raise funding for the top level training she would need to reach the summit. Her biggest hurdle of all was to fight the beliefs of the pessimists who insisted that her dream was impossible. "Have you gone mad" and "You can never do mountaineering" were two of the most common responses.
"The biggest motivator is yourself. The day your inner-self is awakened toward any goal, nobody can stop you from reaching that goal" she said, a lesson that she is passionate about sharing from her own life experience.
With the support of her family, she was introduced to Madame Bachendri Pal. Bachendri is an esteemed mountaineer who in 1984 successfully climbed Mt Everest. The pair met directly after Arunima had been discharged from hospital. So strong was Arunima's desire to climb, she didn't even stop at her own home first, instead going directly to the meeting with Madame Pal!
Arunima Sinha and Bachendri Pal - Photo courtesy of India Telegraph
In time, and with injuries still not completely healed, Arunima began her tough training with the guidance of Bachendri. They began their training on the mountains but the frustration of lagging behind the other able bodied climbers made Arunima promise to herself that one day, she would overtake them all. Within 8 short months of intensive training she did just that, racing ahead of the group to be the first climber up the mountains!
Two years after her accident, Arunima finally received the financial backing to climb Mt Everest. She vividly remembers her first visit to the mountain. She was introduced to her Sherpa who would be looking after her on the climb. A Sherpa is a member of a Himalayan tribe living on the borders of Nepal and Tibet, renowned for their skill in mountaineering. Every climber on Everest must be accompanied by a Sherpa. Initially he flatly refused to be her guide, fearing the serious risk to his own life but after much convincing from Bachendri, he relented and the climb began.
There were 6 people in the group. They set off, the road ahead was both beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. Arunima led the group from the front on the rocky climbs but as soon as she reached the thick ice, she began to struggle. Her artificial leg began slipping and stopped the climb. Eventually with some testing and patience, they discovered a way forward and made it to Camp 3, which is 8,300 meters above sea level.
The climb from Camp 3 to Camp 4 is one of the most treacherous parts of the mountain. Often referred to as the "Death Zone", many climbers have watched their friends and colleagues die in the attempt of this phase. Arunima and her group climbed at night when the weather holds calmer. Illuminated by their head lamps, they encountered many dead bodies along the way and even stepped over some that lay on their path. A nightmarish sight even for the bravest and most able bodied of climbers, Arunima was utterly terrified but still managed to remain focused on the path ahead.
When she witnessed he death of a climber from a lack of oxygen, she told the group “If everyone succeeds in summiting Everest then it is alright. If not I will summit Everest for you all, and I will return alive". Arunima took on a sporting mindset - if you believe that you can complete the task, you are much more likely to succeed.
At the Hillary Step, close to the summit, Arunima discovered that her oxygen was running low and the Sherpa instructed her to turn back to save her life. She convinced him to continue and the group climbed on. They reached the summit in under 2 hours.
On 21st May 2013, after 52 days of enduring the treacherous climb, the group reached the top of the world, the summit of Mt Everest. Exhausted, exhilarated and feeling a deep pride for her home country, Arunima recorded a video. She asked the Sherpa to "give the video to my India" should she not make it back down the mountain alive. Many deaths occur on the dangerous decent due to exhaustion, frostbite and lack of oxygen.
Arunima on the summit of Mt Everest - photo courtesy of First Post
On the way back to Base Camp, the oxygen ran out completely. The Sherpa kept the group motivated. He had not expected Arunima to reach the summit and was insistent that she would make it home alive. With an incredible stroke of luck and a selfless act of kindness, a chance encounter with a British climber who had begun his ascent undoubtedly saved her life. He saw her distress and immediately stopped to help, giving her one of his two tanks of oxygen, ending his own attempt to reach the summit.
While continuing forwards to Base Camp, another disaster struck. A large part of Arunima's prosthetic leg broke, rendering it useless. She had to use her hands to help navigate the ice which caused frostbite to set in. Her hands were bleeding and red. The first stage of frostbite was visible. There are three stages of frostbite, first the skin turns red, then blue, and finally black. This is when the extremities need to be amputated.
Soon the Sherpa would have to leave her to save his own life. In a final effort to continue, she wrapped a rope around her leg and began to drag herself down the incline. "The other option was to give up" she said. This was an option she was never going to consider. Finally, after passing the deep ice and snow, they found a rock. They sat for a moment and repaired the damaged prosthesis as best they could.
Usually from Camp 4 to the summit and back takes an able-bodied climber 15-16 hours. By now it had taken Arunima and her guide 28 hours of exertion in the extreme conditions. On their return to Camp 4, everyone was amazed and thrilled to see her return. After such a long time descending, they were sure that she had perished in the attempt.
A strong believer in luck and fate, Arunima is the definition of a positive mindset. "You can do everything, it's all how you think!" she said. "To succeed, this mission had become my life, it had become my obsession, passion and my insistence. Sleeping, awake or sitting, I could only see Everest in front of my eyes. I feel that if anyone wants to reach their target, until the mindset comes, it won't happen".
Arunima Sinha - image courtesy of The Optimist Citizen
Dr. Arunima Sinha was the first female amputee to climb Mt Everest. She has gone on to inspire millions with her words as a motivational speaker and has won numerous prestigious awards. Her next goal is to climb the seven highest peaks in all seven continents, she has succeeded to climb 6 of these already.
She is planning to open a sports academy for physically challenged called "Chandra Shekhar Azad Viklaang Khel Academy". She has since purchased some land in Uttar Pradesh, India to make this dream come true.
You can learn more about Arunima and her work via her social media channels and website below.
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