Meet the Indian bladerunner
Amputee athlete, Major Devender Pal Singh (retd), has completed nine half-marathons. The Kargil War veteran talks to Jasvinder Sidhu about the challenges and speculation he faced through the years, and the unending inspiration he received through his faith in God
He may not be India’s answer to Oscar Pistorius, but Major Devender Pal Singh most certainly has the same courage and determination reflecting in his eyes - the kind of resolve that helps you make it through the biggest problems. The amputee athlete lost his right leg to a Pakistani mortar during the Kargil War 14 years ago at the Akhnoor Sector. But this former 7 Dogra unit leader never lost his strength to fight back. He became the first blade runner in India and is now a veteran of nine marathons.
Singh, who had to stay in hospital for a year after the mortar injury, turns philosophical as he talks about the passion and source of strength that motivated him through the ordeal. “A person in the army is not only an army man. At an individual level he is also a civilian. The only difference the army makes is it that it grooms people to fight against all odds. That is what helped me,” says the Kargil war hero who has since retired from the forces.
It is not easy for anyone to overcome the shock and pain of losing a part of his or her body and one’s life changes forever. But Singh’s life changed for the better. “When I was a fit man, even a 14-kilometre cross-country race used to tire me. But after I lost my limb, I began running more than that. By now, I have run nine half-marathons, which are 21-kilometre races,” said Singh, who now works in a bank.
But the journey has not been easy for him. Most people did not take him seriously. “I decided to enter the Airtel half-marathon in Delhi (WHEN) to get people to stop doubting me and that is exactly what happened. It was something I did without even talking to my parents first.
They were hurt and angry. After three successful half marathons with one normal walking leg, the army found out about this and provided me with an Ireland-made prosthesis which costs about Rs 4.5 lakh,” Singh said pointing to his legs.
The biggest challenge, the soldier-turned-motivational speaker soon realised, was making a perfectly-sized prosthesis. “The socket, which connects my body with the prosthesis, hurt the most. After every race, my skin used to peel and it would bleed and swell. I had to bandage it for 15 days.
You can’t use the prosthesis again until the wound heals properly. Once you find a technician or engineer who can make the perfect-sized prosthesis, there is no problem,” he explained.
But instead of turning to a technician, Singh decided to innovate. He came up with a jugaad (local idea) to help him overcome the pain he faced in his sockets after every marathon. “I managed to find gel socks that are available in the market. I cut these socks into two parts, one part of which is used as a knee cap, which works as a foam cushion that holds my knee properly. I then layer it with another pair of socks. It is working for me,” he said.
Surprisingly, before he was amputated, Singh was not a serious athlete. During his years at school and college, he took part in several competitions but not at the highest level. “I was not a long-distance runner in school. I did participate in shot put and discus throw, but didn’t represent any of the institutions at the top level,” explains Singh.
He believes his inspiration came from his strong faith in God. “I feel everyone who is here in this world or universe comes with an aim. Life is given to you to fulfill that task. In other words; God sends you to earth to achieve something. Everyone gets married, everyone works; one has to die some day. This is life, but if you do something different, God must choose you to do that. I do feel that God has chosen me. It is my destiny.” Singh’s strong voice confirms this belief.
Major D P Singh is being offered a better running limb by Hanger Inc, Oklahoma, USA. He is looking sponsors for his trip. He can be contacted on: email@example.com or 9650960322