Rising against the odds

Deepa Malik during the shot put event at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro
Deepa Malik is a story of grit, determination and perseverance. At an age when most regular athletes hang up their boots and engage in alternate vocations, the 45-year-old Malik, who was paralysed below the chest due to a tumour in her spine when she was 29, became the first-ever Indian woman to win a medal at the Paralympics - a silver in the shot put at Rio de Janeiro earlier this week. "Of course, the mood is incredible at home. Everyone is so excited, so thrilled. After all, this is the first time any Indian woman has achieved this," says her daughter, Devika, who is also a para-athlete.

Deepa was 36 when she started her career as a para-athlete, in swimming. While she had initially taken up the sport as a hobby, she slowly started pursuing it seriously. "The exposure gained at her first international swimming meet in 2006, where she was introduced to the world of para-sport made a huge difference," says Devika.

Deepa made the transition to track and field in 2008-09 - participating in the three disciplines, the shot put, the javelin and the discus. She took the step to specialise in the shot put only a year-and-a-half ago.

"In the morning, there is four to five hours of weight training, gym and muscle training that takes place at the Siri Fort Sports Complex under the supervision of trainer Vaibhav Sarohi," explains Devika. Training in the evening, she adds, includes a couple of hours of practising the shot put, which is supervised by her husband, Bikram Singh Malik (a former athlete himself) who doubles up as her skill coach.

For someone who is 45 and competing in track and field, Deepa has had to put in enormous hard work. "She really has to push her body at lot, as she is paralysed below the chest. Also, she gets a lot of spasms that need to be managed - it isn't easy at all. If she has to reach the training ground at 9 in the morning, it means getting up at 5. But in all this one must say, she hasn't let her age affect her. If you see her at the gym, most of the people around her are aged 15 -20. She is training with people half her age," says Devika.

Diet is crucial to any athlete. Over the past six to eight months, Deepa has been taking advice from a professional nutritionist, who recommends the kind of diet to follow, depending on what phase of training she's in. According to Devika, her mother's diet largely comprises high proteins with sports supplements, carbohydrates, steamed and boiled food, and non-vegetarian items, which include chicken and eggs. Also a part of the diet are fruit, dry fruit and about 250-400 ml milk. She is barred from consuming juices, and masala in her food.

That Deepa became a successful sportsperson isn't entirely be surprising. Prior to her paralysis, she was a cricket and basketball player, and while she took up swimming seven years after her paralysis, she used to swim earlier as well. Athletics, however, was a completely new proposition. According to her daughter, Deepa had never previously competed in any of the three track and field disciplines. "It was a first for her, so it was almost learning from scratch and that too with a physical constraints," says Devika.

Her silver medal at the Rio Paralympics was her 18th international medal as a para-athlete - 31 surgeries and 183 stitches on, it is by far her most momentous. Here's hoping India can produce many more Deepa Maliks.

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