I got to know of Kartiki from my scuba diving instructor in Pune. To encourage me to go underwater despite being a quadriplegic, he showed me a video of Kartiki prepping and scuba-diving in the pool. I had the best time of my life in the pool that day. Shortly after I reached out to Kartiki and got to know that she is a paraplegic, actively played sports such as badminton and also worked with an IT company. She became one of my early role models of a woman with a spinal cord injury SCI who was so active in life.
Kartiki Patel’s #LifeBeyondSCI
I was born and brought up in Mumbai. Up until I finished my 10+2, I was leading the life of a regular carefree teenager. However, my life changed soon after, I lost my parents early in my life, first my mother and then my father. I have lived with my maternal aunt Shaila and uncle Ashwin Patel since my father’s death. With my aunt’s support I completed my studies and started working at an IT firm.
Through all the turmoil in my life there was one constant – basketball. I played various sports in school and after but basketball was the sport I gravitated towards. It was my passion , my stress reliever when I needed it, It was my goto thing whenever I needed to get away from everything.
In 2008 I was in a car accident which left me with a spinal cord injury. I was travelling with cousins from Mumbai to Vapi in Gujarat when the car swerved off the road at high speed and toppled multiple times. I was juggled in the car. This broke my spine at the T12-L1 level and I was paralysed below the waist.
I did not have any knowledge about my injury or rehabilitation. The hospital I was in did not provide any information on rehab centers in India. Therefore, I had a physiotherapist come home to help with passive workouts.
My friends from my workplace and my boss Mr Raj Dhyani suggested that I start working again to keep me away from depression. With help and support from my immediate family I learnt to get off the bed on my own, urine and bowel control was not there, getting out of the house was a struggle but I learnt/managed with help and I joined office four months after my accident and continued working at the firm for the next eight years.
Life beyond injury
With only physiotherapy and office, I was growing restless. I loved being outdoors and running around, none of which was happening now. I had heard about wheelchair sports and was on a constant lookout for something to do but six years passed since my accident and I did not find anything.nAll facilities were inaccessible. I decided to learn how to swim, however every pool that I went to was inaccessible, the changing rooms were inaccessible and none of the coaches were ready to teach someone with a disability. Finally, my mentor Mr Sunil shah decided to teach me at his club. I managed to change in a toilet where my wheelchair fit and got to the pool with the help of lifeguards. I finally felt liberated with being able to move on my own in the pool without any equipment.
I was able to qualify for the swimming nationals for Para athletes at the end of that year. Seeing people with multiple disabilities swim motivated me. It was here that I met the president of the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India Ms Madhavi Latha. She informed me of the first Wheelchair Basketball Nationals to be held in Chennai.
At the Nationals I met with ex-army men from Pune who guided me further about wheelchair sports. I practiced wheelchair badminton and basketball with them. Since my introduction to wheelchair sports there was no looking back. I played wheelchair badminton for three years and was National Champion all three years. Once the women’s state team for basketball was formed I started focussing on basketball. When I played wheelchair basketball I forgot my disability. In due course I was selected for the Indian team which was set to play its first tournament internationally. We won a bronze at the Bali International tournament in 2017 and I was awarded for my performance by being selected for the dream team. For the next International tournament I was Captain of the Indian Women’s team in 2018. I have been the Captain of the Indian team in 2018 and 2019.
Being in sports gave me the confidence to quit my job and study further , I did a two year full time Masters degree from Tata Institute of Social Science.
I really enjoy being outdoors. Ever since I have been into sports I have travelled a lot by myself as well as with company. My most memorable trip was to Spain. It was my first time travelling abroad with a group of disabled athletes. I loved sightseeing in Spain but it was special because I was able to get around everywhere without help because every place was accessible, travel was convenient because of accessible public transport. I had never felt so much freedom before while travelling.
My travel to the US was also good because of the accessibility. Here, I saw so many people with disabilities moving on the road by themselves, going to work etc which was very encouraging.
Message for people who are newly injured
There are a lot of people who will constantly remind you of your disability, how incapable you have become after the disability. My advice would be to not listen to them because they themselves do not know about and cannot comprehend the possibilities after acquiring a disability. There are so many options, careers, sports, hobbies that can be taken up after a disability. Do not limit yourself and explore, new opportunities will keep coming your way.
I would like to recommend the book – Born to fly by Nitin Sathe. This book is a biography on the life of flight officer M.P. Anil Kumar. A very inspiring book and a must read for everyone who has acquired a disability.