For India’s first blade-runner Major Devinder Pal Singh (retd), legendary Canadian athlete Terry Fox was a greater inspiration than world’s most well-known prosthetics-enabled athlete, South African Oscar Pistorious, who is currently in prison for murdering his girlfriend. “I was not aware about Oscar Pistorious when I started running. Rather, Terry Fox is a much bigger figure than Oscar. Of course, nobody can match what Oscar has done. But I can’t say that I started running because of him,” Singh told IANS on the sidelines of the JK Cement Swachh Ability Run here over the weekend.
The loss of a limb and a return from the verge of the afterlife during the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan, in fact, spurred Singh on to a new ambition — running the marathon. “Disability somehow motivated me to take up running because disabled people are not considered good for anything. So I picked up running because I don’t have one leg. This was so that I can convey the message that having legs or having mobility of body parts does not lead to disability or ability.
“It is the mind which helps you to do that. So to answer that if I go for a long distance run without a leg, you know I do not have to speak. Automatically my actions will speak,” he explained. The JK Cement Swachh Ability Run itself is Singh’s brainchild, who by now has 25 marathons to his credit. Singh, who last year made it to the Limca Book of Records for running a series of marathons with a prosthetic leg, said that marathon-running is more of a psychological war, rather than a physical one.
Singh lost one of his legs while in combat during the Kargil war, where his compartiots almost gave him up for dead due to excessive bleeding and a cardiac arrest that he suffered. “It was not a big deal. I was deployed on the Line of Control with my men. We had to face action every day. On one such day, a mortar landed next to me and disintegrated, with the shrapnel piercing my body. There are still 50-odd bits embedded in my body,” he said.
“Much of the shrapnel had cut through me and I was lying there profusely bleeding. That is when my team picked me up and took me to the hospital. I was initially declared dead because there was heavy blood loss and because of a cardiac arrest. But I was somehow revived by senior specialists and that was the beginning of my second life,” Singh said. The “second” life was, in a way, inspired by Terence Stanley Fox alias Terry Fox, a marathon runner and cancer awareness campaigner who lost one of his legs in a car accident.
The former soldier now wants more and more amputees to take up marathon running in order to encourage them and instil confidence in their abilities. Singh’s group, ‘The Challenging Ones’, which was a started in 2011, uses sports as a medium to empower disabled people. In six years, the group has built up a membership of 1,400 amputees, more than 500 of whom have already participated in various marathons across India. “Someone asked me: ‘Don’t you feel pain when you run?’ The answer is that a normal person also feels pain in both legs. In my case, it is one leg less to feel the pain. It is all a mind game. You need to train your mind more about which is your biggest enemy and which is your strongest strength,” he said.
However, in the Indian circumstances, it is still not cheap to get a customised prosthetic limb, he said, adding that there needs to be a support system to reduce their cost and make them more accessible.”State-of-the-art limbs are available nowadays, but they are very costly and not accessible to humble people. The one which I use for running costs around Rs 7-8 lakh,” he said.In the end, as Singh has often proved, it’s the spirit and not the money that matters.