Arunima Sinha is the world’s first female amputee, and the first Indian amputee, to climb Mount Everest. Recently, she has also become the first woman amputee in the world to climb Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica. In the same i.e. 2013 she was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India. Arunima’s aim is to climb all the continents’ highest peaks and hoist the national flag of India. She has already climbed six peaks: Everest in Asia, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, Kosciuszko in Australia, Aconcagua in Argentina and Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) in Indonesia. But her journey hasn’t been an easy one. She is a real hero who has overcome all hurdles to reach the top.
Arunima Sinha hails from a humble background. She belongs to Ambedkarnagar village of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh in India. Her father was an engineer in the army and her mother a supervisor with the health department. He passed away when she was three. She has an elder sister and a little brother. Upon her father’s death, her sister’s husband, whom we fondly call Bhai Sahib, became the family’s head. Everyone in her family enjoys sports so she was naturally athletic as a child, though she never had any professional aspirations for the same. Her ‘Bhai sahib’ suggested her apply at the Paramilitary Force in the army, saying that this way she could stay close to her beloved sports while earning a living at the same time. Despite many heartfelt tries, she didn’t get through. The job search was not panning out as she expected and she was getting desperate. In 2011, she applied at CSIF. When she got the call letter she noticed they had got her birth date wrong. Determined not to lose out on a good opportunity due to this technical error, she decided to leave for Delhi immediately to get it rectified. She was confident that once this was done, she would get the job.
But a tragedy changed her life forever. While traveling to Delhi, Arunima Sinha was thrown off the moving train by some goons for refusing to give her gold chain to them. She lost her left leg after a train on the other track went over it. She recalls the horrific incident “I got on the general compartment of the Padmavat Express. The crowd was crushing, but I squeezed myself into a corner seat. Preoccupied with thoughts about the future, I was startled when some four or five thugs gathered around me and started pulling at the only thing of value I had on that day- a gold chain gifted to me by my mother. When I refused to hand the chain over, they started coming at me one at a time. I kicked, punched and fought as best as I could. Since they couldn’t take me on one at a time, each grabbed a limb and hauled me out the train. I flew into an oncoming train and the force threw me onto the opposite tracks. Before I could move my left leg off the track, a train went over it. I never thought I would survive that night.”
Arunima’s leg had to be amputated from below the knee immediately to prevent gangrene from setting in. People around her started showing their pity towards her saying now nobody will marry her and all that usual crap. Arunima decided taking inspiration from her idol Yuvraj Singh who battled cancer, to do something extraordinary in her life. She pondered on the most impossible dream she could set for me. She decided to climb the Everest. But when she tried to discuss her plan with anyone, either she was laughed off or told that trauma had affected her mental health adversely.
In 2013 Arunima Sinha became the world’s first female amputee, and the first Indian amputee, to achieve this feat. In 2019, she also became the first woman amputee to climb Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica.
Usually, amputee patients take months, or even years, to get accustomed to their prosthetic limbs. Arunima Sinha walked in just two days! This proves that the mind holds tremendous sway over the body. Once she had decided that this is what she would do, she let nothing stop her. Straight out of the hospital she went to see Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Everest. Apart from her family, she was the only person who did not ridicule her mission. She told her, “Arunima in this condition you made such a huge decision. Know that you have already conquered your inner Everest. Now you need to climb the mountain only to show the world what you are made of.” Arunima did a basic course from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, the best school of its kind in Asia. This was followed by 18 months of rigorous training. She climbed smaller, but no less dangerous mountains had a couple of near-death experiences and underwent mind-numbing, exhausting, spirit-crushing pain. She supported herself with a grant from NIM. Then Tata Steel provided her with a generous sponsorship that let her focus exclusively on the impossible task that lay ahead.
Arunima’s prosthetic limb posed some unique problems. The ankle and heel would constantly swivel as she tried to climb, causing her to lose her grip often. Her right leg was held together by a steel rod. Any pressure sent up spasms of acute intense pain. Her Sherpa almost refused to accompany her, telling her that she was on a suicide mission. Every climber has to traverse four camps on route to the peak. Once you’ve reached camp four, there are 3500 feet to the summit. This area is known as the death zone, notorious for the number of lives it has claimed. There were bodies of erstwhile climbers strewn all around. A Bangladeshi he met earlier breathed his last right before her. Ignoring the cold fear, she moved on. She firmly took stock of her fears and told her body that death was not an option. But all that changed once she reached the summit!
On 21st May 2013 Arunima Sinha reached the Everest summit. Earlier her Sherpa had informed her that her oxygen supply was critically low. “Save your life now so that you can climb Everest again later,” he said pragmatically. She said, “If I don’t climb Everest now, my life will not be worth saving.” She erected the flag of my country on the peak, put some pictures of her idol Swami Vivekananda next to it. Then she used the last vestiges of her oxygen to take pictures and videos of herself on the peak. She knew she was probably going to die. So it was important that the visual proofs of her achievement make it down to the world. Fifty steps later, her oxygen finished.
As she lay suffocating and gasping for breath, she came across an extra cylinder of oxygen. Her Sherpa quickly latched it on her. Slowly they embarked on the precarious downward climb. Far more deaths occur on the downward climb than the upward one on Everest. After she survived all this it was time to tell her tale.
Arunima Sinha says regarding her love for mountaineering, “Climbing mountains has yielded the most valuable life lessons for me. It has taught me about confidence, leadership, resilience, team building and leadership. But above all, it has taught me the power of humility. It doesn’t matter what you achieve in life. What matters is how those achievements make you a better person. How you treat others is at the core of what makes you a good human being.”
Arunima runs a non-profit school for underprivileged handicapped children. The school, Shahid Chandrashekhar Azad Khel Academy doesn’t have a building, a field or a court. But that doesn’t matter. They take permissions and play in other people’s fields. Her students are her life. She trains them the best she can and they have made her proud. To conclude in Arunima’s words,
“Failure is not when we fall short of achieving our goals. It is when we don’t have goals worthy enough.”