BENGALURU: Losing a limb or vision has not stopped these Bengalureans from having an adventure. In fact, they go seeking it. They ski, do snowshoeing, run marathons and climb walls. Poonam Vaidya loves to challenge the odds. The 29-year-old blind content writer is passionate about travel and never misses an opportunity to do something extraordinary.
Through her friend, she learned about the training programme at the Colorado Center for the Blind which included sports such as skiing and rock climbing. She took the nine-month programme from July 2015 to February 2016. “I am not into sports actually but I don’t miss a chance to participate. Every month at the training, I was trying to expand the horizon. It includes a range of activities from routine things to self-defence training, rock climbing, skiing, white-water rafting and bungee jumping,” she says.
She says she gets a sense of accomplishment from these. “We also had indoor obstacle courses where we had to climb up short walls, weave through spiderwebs and crawl through tunnels. While skiing, there used to be an expert behind me who would control my movements with strings to help provide directions. I wasn’t afraid. It was difficult at first to wear the ski, it was hard to fit it onto my legs and learn to balance. I fell once or twice but picked it up soon. The main instructors have been training for 20 years and, hence, they know how to include blind skiers,” she shares.
Poonam, who lost her vision about seven and a half years ago, to optic degeneration, was one of 30 other visually impaired girls at the Pinkathon in 2015. “I got second place for 5k run in the visually impaired category,” she says. She also participated in a rock-climbing session organised by another group Strings in El Dorado. “It was a man made place with natural rocks. They had six levels of difficulties. I climbed only two walls as I decided to take it a little easy,” she says.
Mohammad Niyamath, who was affected by polio leaving his right leg shorter than left by three and a half foot, also didn’t have much interest in adventure sports until he participated in a trek organised by an NGO in the early 90s. Neither he nor his family was confident that he would be able to do it. But, he soon became the first disabled person to climb walls along with regular climbers. He says, “I kept practising. But there was a break of about six years due to my studies, class 10 and family responsibility.” He trained himself to be an electrician as he was the sole bread winner for his family. “I then got appointed as a trainer at an indoor rock-climbing place Equilibrium. I started training other people.”
He uses a caliper, and uses his upper-body strength to climb. Mohammad has had three to four falls and each time, the aluminium rod on the caliper, gets damaged, it has cost him Rs 10,000. But, these setbacks have not stopped him. He has since participated in several international events and won medals. “After I won a gold medal in paraclimbing in 2013, my family became more confident and supportive. My neighbours became more encouraging too,” he says.
He also adds that he is proud of training six blind people, of which three women and a man won medals at the National Sport Climbing Championship held in Jammu Kashmir recently. “I didn’t know how to communicate to them and help them identify the colour of the rocks, for them to climb in a pattern.
Then, we worked together a guiding system that follows a clock’s hands... for example, telling them to reach for the 7’o clock-rock,” he says. Shalini Saraswathi who wanted to stay healthy after her amputation decided to run. She says running gives her lot of joy. The 39-year-old has also participated in the TCS World 10K twice in 2016 and 2017.
A quadruple amputee, she has lost all four of her limbs after a rare bacterial infection. Her family has been a great support system, she says. “They just have some anxiety about if it’s painful to run with amputation or what if I fall,” she adds. She also tried rock climbing but she says she couldn’t do it as it does not work well with prosthetics.
The sports enthusiasts participated in a wall climbing activity held at Equilibrium Climbing Station in association with Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation.