“When I was up there, stranded by myself, did I think I was going to die? Yes. Absolutely, and that’s what you need to know going in because it’s going to happen to you… At some point everything is going to go south on you. And you’re going to say ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem. Then you solve the next one, and then the next and if you solve enough problems you get to come home.”–these closing lines delivered by Matt Damon in the movie Martian reminded me of someone more real and much closer to home.

At a time when her husband was fighting the enemy at Kargil, this mother of two fought a tumour on her spinal cord, 3 surgeries and 183 stitches between her shoulder blades to sit up become a hero for the nation. Meet Deepa Malik. So much has been written and said about her that nothing seems new. But every time you meet her the sparkle in her eyes and the indomitable spirit greets you.

She was in town recently, to launch my dear friend Boria Majumdar’s new book ‘A History of Indian Sports through 100 Artefacts’, and we got talking. She was saying, “When I won my medal in 2010 Asian Games, which became the first medal won by an Indian woman in athletics in Asian Games, and within a month I picked up a silver at the World Championship in 2011. Those 30 days changed my life. I knew I was not going back. I had it in me.”

The adventurer within her screams out silently ‘to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’. At 29 this house wife n mother of two was given a choice between paralysis and death. Anyone else in her place would have had a meltdown. But life could never throw her a challenge that could snuff out the spirit within her.

After seven years of wheelchair she erased the stamp of a diseased patient on wheelchair and emerged a winner and a budding sportsperson at 36.

Seven broken vertebrae and frequent MRI scans in the absence of titanium plates could not stop this Zulu warrior from throwing the javelin in 2006. Then it became the shot put, the event that has given her Paralympics silver in Rio. But the preparations for those 30 days that changed her life was spent mostly in the corridors of Sports Authority of India and Sports Ministry trying to get her funding, “But I have no complains. They helped me get to where I wanted to go.” Another proof in herself that in India sports happen because of the will, girt and chin-down determination and system, infrastructure, facilities and science are just words.

For her age has always been a number. It’s the discipline within that mattered. “As I have always said perseverance hard work dedication punctuality time management they are not just words. Every time I imbibe them I come out a winner,” said Deepa an avid biker, rallyist and swimmer too. Sports in India is all about perseverance and she proved it when she fought for 19 months to get her license as a rally driver in Maharashtra.

For Deepa winning gold in Japan is not a goal, it’s her mission to find a way around maize of problems that keep propping up. “I think obstacle seems like obstacle when we have not gained enough knowledge about it. Lack of knowledge about a situation and lack of solutions about it makes it an obstacle. When you start looking for a solution for an alternative for a plan B…of course it will involve a lot of learning… the way out will present itself. I think that has been my journey learning to deal with my obstacles and finding solutions,” was I listening to an extended script of Andy Weir from the Martian I didn’t know any longer.

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