She was seven when the first tumour was diagnosed in her spinal column and operated upon. For next two years she was bedridden, scared to go to school in wheelchair. But her parents transformed those days into a time of learning, giving her a strong dose of self-belief and self-esteem, Soon shy Deepa became a bold, outdoorsy child, playing basketball in the college team, representing Rajasthan in cricket, borrowing bikes from boys and coming to be known as ‘Biker Deepa’.
The turning point of her life also came at a very trying time. Her husband was fighting in Kargil in 1999 when she was diagnosed spinal tumour again. The doctor told her either she could live with the tumour and walk, or get rid of it, live longer but lose sensation in body, trunk downward. As a mother of two girls she was not ready to just give up yet. In the next 14 years she got 183 stiches between the shoulder blades and three spinal surgeries. But facing the pity of society, their queries of how she would manage to be a mother with her disability made her realise that people couldn’t see beyond sympathy and look at the courage she showed in the face of adversity. One day, a school teacher checked tiffins of her daughters to see if their mother could provide them with a decent lunch. That was she decided to give society much-needed shock treatment, to tell them that disability doesn’t mean having to spend the rest of your life in a room, waiting to die.
The second phase of her life started with a small delivery service in the army cantonment area in Ahmednagar Maharashtra with the help of retired army cooks. The venture soon turned into an award winning restaurant and successful catering service Dees Place. But to her, this wasn‘t enough. She decided to take up biking yet again. She undertook a rigorous six week hydrotherapy rehabilitation programme at the Indian Spinal Injuries centre in Delhi learning the practical way to handle her disability. From floating in water to swimming laps, it was only a matter of time before the Paralympic committee came to her, offering a chance to represent India in swimming.
At 36, she became a national sportsperson. From swimming to becoming a javelin thrower to finally winning silver for the country in shot put at Paralympics,the combination of hunger to win and habit of giving it all worked in her favour. As for the bike she finally bought it, struggled to get a driver’s licence and then set a record of being the first disabled woman to cross nine high altitude passes in nine days on the highest motorable pass in the world.
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