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Ekta Bhyan Was Paralysed From Waist Downwards At 18. Her Gold Medal Story Can Only Be Understood If Read Backwards

“I was not sure what I was going to do with my life,” Bhyan says. “But the thing I had in my mind was that I have to be financially independent.”

Bhyan, top ranked Asian parathlete with world ranking of 5 and 6 in club throw and discus throw respectively, was completely paralyzed from waist down in a road accident in 2003. She was 18 at the time.

“I enjoyed dancing and then suddenly I was bound to a wheel-chair. It was a very low phase initially,” Bhyan says.

Her first challenge was not the hurdles faced by the differently abled but her own doubts about her future.

“Initially, it was very difficult to accept. I [had hopes] that one day… I would start walking. Acceptance was very difficult at that point,” Bhyan says.

Bhyan, who hails from Hisar, found her strength in her parents’ unwavering confidence in her. When Bhyan came back home after spending nine long months in the hospital, her parents told her to resume her studies.

“I was not sure what I was going to do with my life,” Bhyan says. “But the thing I had in my mind was that I have to be financially independent.”

Returning to her studies filled Bhyan with new energy. She was pleasantly surprised by her final results.

“I could not believe that I had topped my college in Psychology,” she said laughing.

Bhyan’s academic success gave her an insatiable hunger to succeed and she decided to take the Haryana civil services exam. It was then that she faced systemic discrimination – something lot of differently-abled Indians have to endure.

The Haryana Public Service Commission (HPSC) denied her permission to use a scribe for the exam.

“My condition is known as the quadriplegic state, which means both upper limbs and lower limbs are affected,” Bhyan explained. “They (HPSC) said only blind candidates can be allowed a writer.”

Undeterred, Bhyan filed a case in the High Court against HPSC and won. She finally took the exam in 2013 with the help of a scribe, and cleared it.

“When I qualified in the civil services exam, it changed everything,” Bhyan said. “I had confidence in myself and I knew I could do anything and everything.”

Bhyan’s feat — she says she’s the only quadriplegic civil servant in Haryana — was a source of inspiration and hope for other quadriplegics.

Her life threw open another door when she got a call from Amit Saroha in 2015.

“Would you like to become a parathlete?” he asked.

Bhyan, who had never given any serious thoughts to sports, started training with Saroha who is an Arjuna awardee para-athlete.

Within a few months of training, Ekta won two medals—a gold medal in club throw and a bronze in discus throw—at the 2016 National Para Athletics Championship.

To the credit of sports authorities and her coach, Bhyan says, she always received access to the best facilities.

Her first international win was in World Para Athletics Grand Prix, Berlin, in 2016, where she won a silver medal.

Bhyan, once fearful for her future as a quadriplegic, held the tricolour at World Para Athletics Grand Prix, 2018, after winning a gold and a bronze medal for India.

But Bhyan, who is looking forward to the upcoming Asian Games in October and has her eyes firmly on the 2020 Paralympics, has ambitions bigger than athletic glory.

“I really want to contribute to the differently abled community, especially girls,” Bhyan says. “I know many girls who couldn’t continue their studies and even when they completed their studies, they couldn’t get employment.”

She recalled how two quadriplegics had called her after she cleared her Haryana civil services exam and only after speaking to her they realised that they too, were eligible for it.

“There is a perception in society that causes differently abled people to think like that,” Bhyan observed.

Noting that education and literacy among differently abled women is particularly low, Bhyan wants to inspire them to continue their studies.

“It is the easiest way to be independent and have self-esteem and confidence,” Bhyan said.

Listening to her speak, one can feel Bhyan is not nearly done winning.

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*Quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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