‘Life is a festival, celebrate it every day,’ says Deepa Malik, India’s first paraplegic Indian woman biker and Arjuna award winner while in the city

“If you felt things stopped you, try a wheel chair’ says an invite with a picture of a smiling Deepa Malik receiving an award from President Pranab Mukherjee. We have heard stories of individuals who have triumphed against all odds but Deepa is a cut above the rest. She is the first paraplegic Indian woman biker, swimmer, car rallyist, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and a restaurateur. Her three spinal tumour surgeries and the 183 stitches between shoulder blades sound insignificant compared to her achievements - national and international awards and a mention in record books. Deepa was in town for a session organised by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) – Young Indians Hyderabad Chapter.

Deepa says the change has to come from within. “I could have been an abala naari, crying all day thinking about my disabilities. I wanted to break the stereotypes and took to sports,” she recalls. Confined to a wheelchair due to paralysis, Deepa’s journey is a story of indomitable courage. “I worked hard at my rehabilitation. I had to manage my bladder, work on my dietary adaptations. I could have easily cribbed about my life but I decided to take charge and here I am,” she says and adds with a smile, “If I were sitting in a chair instead of a wheel chair, someone would have even asked me for a dance.”

The mother of two, Deepa also recalls her army husband’s support in her journey. “When a family supports you, your confidence levels are high. There were a lot of sacrifices. Initially my kids had to be on their own. We worked as a great team. It was a beautiful acceptance on the part of my husband, there was no cursing, regret or sadness. We moved on with it and are happy. In a few hours from now, we will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary,” she says as her face shines bright with pride.

As part of the policy making, the onus is to make a difference. “At 43, I got a government job on the basis of my sports achievements. I talk about my travels, post pictures on Facebook so that others get inspired,” she says.

Her agenda through her foundation Will on Wheels is to spread the message – “Life is a festival, celebrate it every day. Don’t give in to stress, understand life’s precious and keep your soul positive.”

‘Think out of the box’ has been her mantra for youngsters. “I want to add fun, frolic, adventure, passion and outdoors in a disabled’s life. We have to work towards employability and so that a disabled individual emerges to be a happy and confident person of hobbies,” says this Arjuna award winner. She says with a little support and encouragement, the differently-abled could bring laurels to the country. “Devendra Jhajharia won a gold in paralympics. We are on par with any other individual,” she says.

Later at a session at Indian School of Business, she spoke about the need to set goals in life and achieve them and how one should convert adversities into opportunities and success. On a parting note, she says, “I am just a graduate and got married when I was 19. When I come to places like these (referring to ISB), I feel very educated.”