On September 30, Deepa Malik turns 46 and a silver medal at Rio Paralympics in the shot put event is the best gift she could have ever dreamed of.
“What more can I ask,” Deepa said, speaking about how overwhelmed she felt with all the congratulatory messages. “I am so surprised with this applause that I am now determined to use this medal for training severely challenged people,” Deepa told The Indian Express from Rio on phone.
For Deepa, it has been a struggle since the age of seven when she was detected with spinal tumour and started treatment for it at Pune’s Command hospital. “Even then, I was determined to complete the entire six months of physiotherapy till I got back on feet. It has been a lot of hard work and the feeling of having won a medal has yet to sink in,” she said.
Her husband Colonel Bikram Malik (retd), who is in Rio with Deepa, said she had always been a fighter. “There were 160 countries and seven made it to the final at the shot put event. She was extremely focussed and I knew she would make it,” he said.
“There has been no time to sleep. So many messages and greetings. I am trying to respond to each one,” Deepa says.
At Deepa’s maternal home in Jaipur, an emotional father, Colonel B K Nagpal (retired), while preparing to celebrate with his daughter when she returns on September 16, recalled two very difficult situations their family had to face – the first being when Deepa was seven and detected with the tumour and the second when doctors said the spinal tumour was growing and a surgery would leave her paralysed below the chest.
“The doctors were clear – either you want a dead daughter or a physically challenged one,” Col Nagpal (retd) said. “Had she allowed her life to be a nightmare, it would have been one. But my daughter was brave and determined to fight it out. At that time, her husband was away at Kargil during the war and both her daughters were little. She was in and out of operation theatres. Deepa has spastic paraplegia (paralysis below chest level due to spinal cord damage at T-2 to T-7 level) and three spinal surgeries resulting into over 100 stitches between shoulder blades,” Col Nagpal (redt) said, adding that Deepa was a go-getter, determined to do well from winning beauty pageants to adventure sports.
Deepa’s father-in-law Gen B S Malik (retd), Ahmednagar, told The Indian Express that even in her 40s, Deepa had shown she had what it took to be a paralympian. “It has not been easy. But she gave it her all. My son has been constantly by her side and both the girls and all of us are so proud of her,” Gen Malik said.
Deepa initially took to swimming with her arms as a challenge and won at national and state championships. “However, it got a little difficult when people had to take me right up to the pool and then gently lower me in it,” Deepa says, adding that she then set her sights on other adventure sports and focussed on javelin, shot put and discus throw events. “This medal has only reinforced my aim to personally assist physically challenged persons to take up sports,” she says.