Imagine a drive through the remote Himalayas and the undiscovered parts of Leh, Shimla, and Jammu in an 8-day, 1700-km punishing ride in sub-zero conditions. Now imagine doing just that for a cross-country rally, while being paralysed from the waist below. What sounds like a completely made up fantasy is the story of the 2019 Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna recipient Deepa Malik, who completed the ‘Raid de Himalaya’, the world’s highest rally raid all the way back in 2009, a good seven years before she created history by becoming the nation’s first medallist at the Paralympics.
Malik wasn’t a paraplegic. She was diagnosed with spinal cancer in 1999 and the subsequent surgeries did manage to clear the tumours but confined her to a life in a wheelchair. But hailing from a family of army veterans, mental toughness and indomitable attitude were ingrained in her DNA. An athlete since childhood, Malik turned her passion for swimming and athletics into a career of parathletic domination and went on to win several domestic and international honours.
Her first international medal came at the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled, or the FESPIC Games in Kuala Lumpur in 2006, winning silver in the S-5 backstroke swimming event. She captured a bronze in javelin throw at the Asian Para Games in 2010 and added a silver medal to her growing collection after placing second in shot put at the IPC World Championships in Christchurch the following year. While she’s won honours galore over the past decade and a half, her biggest athletic achievement came at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, where she captured a silver medal in shot put. Malik did what no other Indian did. She put the nation on the mat in the Paralympics and became an inspiration for the billion or so people in the nation.
The Haryana-native is also an avid fan of motorsports. She fought a court case for her right to a rally license so she could compete in the Raid-de-Himalaya. She pursued the case for 19 months, bent the law to her will and became the first physically-challenged individual in the nation to get a rally license from the Federation Motor Sports Club on India. She’d go on to drive in the Raid-de-Himalaya in 2009 and the Desert Storm in the following year. While the thrill of motorsports was among the reasons for her venture into that world and what prompted her to attain a license, she also believes that a driving license not only empowers a physically challenged individual but also helps them be independent and self-reliant in their day-to-day lives.
Thank you everyone for the good wishes. Apologies if I haven’t been able to respond to any one personally. I’d like to express my sincere gratitude towards our President @rashtrapatibhvn, Hon. PM Shri @narendramodi ji and sports minister @KirenRijiju ji & (1/2) pic.twitter.com/M7nHzG2DdO
— Deepa Malik (@DeepaAthlete) August 30, 2019
On 29th August 2019, Malik was bestowed with the nation’s top sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna,
and at age 49, she is also the oldest recipient of the award. Malik has shown the world that willpower can
impale any physical limitation. And for this decorated athlete and mother of two, the journey goes on.
Written by: Sportz Interactive