Against All Odds
Alekh Angre 19 May 2012

The Challenging Ones inspires physically challenged people to shine in sports and adventure, finds Alekh Angre

In 1999, Major Devender Pal Singh (now retired) lost his right leg in a mortar bomb explosion in the thick of Operation Vijay, better known as the Kargil War. On reaching the hospital, he was initially declared dead, but an anaesthetist managed to revive him. Although he survived, Major Singh’s right leg had to be amputated due to gangrene. Typical of a war hero, Major Singh was determined to live a normal life. He got himself a prosthetic leg at the Artificial Limb Centre, Pune and worked doggedly to overcome his disability and do more. He decided to take part in a car rally but couldn’t find sponsors because of his disability. The rejection by sponsors only made him more determined and he decided to focus on running. Ten years after Kargil, he participated in the Delhi half marathon (2009). “The rejection was a catalyst to prove myself. I completed the race in 3hours 40mins,” he says, proudly. Since then Major Singh has completed five half marathons and earned recognition as India’s ‘Blade Runner’.

But not everybody has Major Singh’s steely determination and will power. Many find it difficult to deal with disability. It is to help them that Major Singh, along with Major Bimal Mehra (retd), founded The Challenging Ones (TCO). TCO started as a Facebook page in 2011 with the idea of motivating those who are physically challenged—he prefers to call them ‘Challengers’—to overcome their limitations and train them to participate in sports & adventure activities.

TCO is now registered as a non-government organisation (NGO) under the Indian Trusts Act. Its core group comprises experts in orthopaedics and prosthetics. 
TCO has three core activities. One, it provides a discussion platform for prosthetics, creating awareness on basics like how to wear the limbs, how to perform physical activities such as running, driving, etc. It also connects them with prosthetic experts to receive technical support and guidance.

Two, TCO offers a peer support system for people using prosthetics and for their families since accidents that force people to undergo amputation cause trauma to the entire family. Often, family members don’t know how to deal with the situation. “The Challengers take it upon themselves to meet and guide fresh amputees and their family on how to deal with the unforeseen situation. It has better impact than help that is provided by able-bodied persons,” explains Major Singh, who is now employed with a bank and works with TCO in his spare time.  

Finally, TCO wants Challengers to participate in sports and adventure activities. “Our ultimate aim is to train more Challengers to help them win medals for India in the Paralympics,” says Major Singh.

So far, apart from regular workshops and talks (including the ones at Goa and Pune) to help and guide people, TCO has helped 12 amputees to participate in a 6km event at the Airtel-sponsored Delhi half marathon. It has also motivated five challengers, including a five-year old (who lost a limb due to a congenital disease) to participate in a Terry Fox Run at Chandigarh to raise funds for cancer research. At an individual level, TCO supported and sponsored Neeraj George (whose left leg was amputated due to bone tumour) to participate in the 2nd French International Para Badminton tournament at Rodez, France in 2012. Neeraj won a gold medal for India in the doubles event.

TCO’s online presence helps it reach out to many who want to take up the challenge of living a normal life. It had received monetary support from an organisation and individuals, but the big chunk of its fund-raising happens through the talks that it conducts. TCO also plans to assist a few companies to set up state-of-the-art limb centres across India. Currently, Major Singh is working hard to get the insurance industry to extend cover for a better quality of prosthetic equipment which is expensive but allows better mobility and higher activity levels.

TCO has volunteers in various cities. You can volunteer for TCO’s activities by arranging motivational talks for the physically challenged. You can also make financial donations. TCO is awaiting exemption under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act

The Challenging Ones
A/ 53, Sector 36, Noida (UP) 201301
Mobile: 9650960322 / 9999319942
Email: [email protected]

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