Here is a story of how a family rose to the occasion to help their free-spirited child who became disabled practically overnight. Thanks to their support, this 26-year-old is a wheelchair basketball player who has brought laurels to the country.
Sakshi born in Garhwal, Uttarakhand, was a carefree nine-year-old when an accident upended her life: a tourist bus hit her as she was crossing the road. Her hilly town did not have good medical facility and by the time her parents managed to reach her to Rishikesh, she had suffered severe haemorrhage and the doctors had to amputate one leg. She spent three or four months in the hospital and learned to use a wheelchair and her prosthetic leg.
By then, her parents, Vinod Singh Chauhan and Sunaina Devi, decided that the terrain back in the village, which didn’t even have proper roads, would come in the way of Sakshi’s development. Vinod, a taxi driver, decided to move his family to Rishikesh while he himself stayed back in the village because he made his living there. Sakshi and her two brothers started life anew while their mother found a job as a tailor.
“My father’s decision and the hardships my family underwent for my sake gave me a better life,” says Sakshi. “I am forever grateful to them.” As she puts it, finding yourself with a disability overnight has its mental, physical and emotional costs. When she eventually went back to school at the Government Girls Inter College, Rishikesh, she used to get frustrated when she saw children playing about like she used to earlier.
She had wanted to be a doctor but after 12th grade, in 2013, she joined the Government Polytechnic College for a three-year diploma course. Those years were lonely and painful as she had become very diffident and acutely conscious of her disability. Once she got her diploma, she moved to Dehradun and got a job at an institute there. Her life turned around as she joined a support group for persons with disabilities (PWDs). Learning about fellow PWDs’ experiences widened her horizons and expanded her friends’ circle. And one of them, Javed, who was also missing a leg and used crutches, suggested she consider wheelchair basketball as a career option.
Sakshi was keen but Uttarakhand did not have a state team. So, in 2018, she moved to Mumbai where she underwent professional training and played for Maharashtra, participating in the Fifth National Championship in Tamil Nadu and the Sixth National Championship in Mohali in 2019, where the team won the gold. By the end of 2019, she had made it to the National Wheelchair Basketball team, representing India at the Asia Oceania Championships 2019 in Thailand. As a fulltime player she has travelled – sometimes alone – across the country for matches.
In 2020, she was supposed to attend a camp in Gujarat in March but Covid-19 forced the country into a lockdown. She returned to Rishikesh to be with her family. Providentially, she had enrolled in the DAV PG College in Dehradun in 2019 and in 2022 she graduated in English and Hindi.
The lockdown affected athletes like her who found themselves unable to access their fitness regimen as gyms and stadiums were closed. It was during this time that the shoulder injury she suffered while training acted up. Physiotherapy did not work and her doctor advised surgery. Besides the expense involved, it would entail her going to Delhi; with no government help she has been forced to postpone the procedure. This has stymied her chance of returning to the game. But being the fighter she is, she hopes to play for India and bring home the gold at the Paralympic Games once she manages to find the resources to fund her surgery.
Meanwhile, this spirited young woman, having secured an NCPEDP (National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People) fellowship, has chosen accessible tourism for PWDs as her field of research. It will include studying the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act 2016 to examine, among other things, compliance of disabled-friendly building byelaws. Since her research requires her to be in Rishikesh she has been working from home in a full-time job as a recruiter in the Delhi office of V-Shesh, an enterprise that promotes PWD employment.
“Mirza Ghalib and Nida Fazli are my favourite poets,” Sakshi says. She occasionally composes verses and she sums up her life in these lines:
“I do not have regrets over losing my leg,
Since I am not made for walking,
I am made for flying.
I am not disabled, I am Limited Edition.”