Wheeling for the sky
For the first time in Nepal, the national-level Wheelchair Basketball Tournament is being held from May 28 till July 9. The players — six teams of boys, three teams of girls — are all in wheelchairs. What is amazing is the players’ attitude that has helped them conquer whatever obstacles that they face.
Their stories of loss
Wanting to do something for the nation, Himal Aryal from Saaljhandi, Rupandehi district joined the Nepal Army. But his joining coincided with the Maoist insurgency. While posted in Makwanpur, Paandrang, he fell into an ambush. On November 15, 2003 Aryal got to know that he could not walk anymore due to a spinal cord injury.
“I was just 24 years old; I could see my whole life in front of my eyes. I needed other’s support even for personal things like urinating. I felt hopeless. I thought living such a life is meaningless,” recalled Aryal.
Yami Jhakri Magar was just 16 when she developed a spinal tumour. “I came to Kathmandu from Pyuthan for a check-up. I operated on at Bir Hospital. It failed.”
On January 29, 2007 Magar knew she would not walk anymore.
“I came to Kathmandu on my own two feet; I had thought I would return on my own,” said Magar, who was at that time preparing for her Class XI exams.
users, I was shocked. When other wheelchair users told me I’m also a spinal cord injury patient, I refused to believe them. I thought I would be able to walk like before.”
Then her father took Magar to Jhapa for herbal treatment for two years. However, nothing changed. Ultimately, she had to accept — “I couldn’t walk anymore”.
Laxmi Ghimire fell 400-500 metres down a cliff in Betali, Ramechhap. She was unconscious for a month after her fall. When she regained consciousness, she could not recall how she fell. But she was badly injured and had a nasty scar. “My parents and relatives assured me that it would heal soon and that I would run like before,” said Ghimire.
But on October 4, 2009 she got the worst news of her life — she would not walk and run like before.
“I was just 16, studying in Class XI. It made me sad — I would see other people walking and I remembered how I used to walk,” she said.
Ghimire spent one year at home being depressed. “Finally I accepted that I cannot walk anymore,” she said.
Another door opens
“I cried and raged the whole one year in Birendra Hospital Chhauni. Then I heard about para Olympics through other patients,” said Aryal who believes it was then that “magic happened in my life”.
He learned to live with this reality of his. In 2010, he participated in the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China (Weight Lifting), in 2012 he participated in the wheelchair dance competition in Delhi, and participated in the Asia Championship in Weight Lifting held in Malaysia in 2013. In 2014, he participated in two competitions — Weight Lifting in Korea, and in the First International Wheelchair Basketball Competition where he led Nepal as captain and won Silver beating India (0-77).
While Aryal got government support, Ghimire did not and she is disappointed that the government does not help people like her. Being the youngest in her family, she was supported by them. She joined the Rehabilitation Centre at Jorpati where she learned to overcome the fear of a dark future. “I was very pessimistic but there my negativity turned to positivity,” said Ghimire.
She attended Computer, English language and Office Management classes for six months at the Technical and Skill Development Centre for Blind and Disabled. She also enrolled in Class XI at the Chamunda Higher Secondary School. As the school had other wheelchair students, “it was easy for me. Teachers and friends were helpful and supportive”.
Later Ghimire joined the Nepal Spinal Cord Injury Sports Association where she learned swimming, basketball and cricket. She is also one of the board members today.
Playing in the earlier days was not easy for her. “When I was called out to play, I would fear that this was the end for me as I feared losing my hands too.”
At present she is studying BBS IInd Year at Padma Kanya Campus and volunteers for computer classes at the Nepal Disabled
Her parents are proud of her though some in her village still look on her with pity. But she has just returned from Korea after participating in the Disabled Peoples’ International Asia-Pacific programme. Ghimire asked, “Has other woman of my village achieved anything? If I had been ‘normal’ like them, then I would probably also have married and limited my whole life to just the household things.”
Wheelchair Sports Association team leader Magar also faced many challenges to accept her injury. She joined the Wheelchair Sports Association in 2008 when she got chance to watch the Association’s match. Today she is leading a team. She also took life skill programme at CTEVT in 2009. With full support of her family, she joined Class XI in Management. She is today an accountant in Hardik Hotel.
The Helping Hand
For any talent to shine, it needs a platform, and ENGAGE is an organisation that is working for social inclusiveness of persons with disabilities. Simone Galimberti, co-founder of ENGAGE, said, “Sports is the just beginning to merge these people into society. If we are thinking about harnessing their potential and help them lead their lives independently, such games should be promoted.”
In many cases, a helping hand is needed to help one stand up once more. And the help given by two persons to these wheelchair sports heroes is noteworthy. Bikram Rajkarnikar and Kushal Lamichhane got an opportunity to engage in ENGAGE where they met spinal cord injury players.
As a basketball player, Rajkarnikar shared, “It was difficult to coach them in the initial phase as I didn’t know there are phases of spinal cord injuries. If I told them to stretch their hands, all couldn’t perform the task in an equal manner. It made me angry as I thought they were disobeying me. However, later on I learned about their internal barriers.
One should know such things if you are coaching them.”
Rajkarnikar is working as League Coordinator for ENGAGE Empowering League 2016, and coach to Jawalakhel team.
Lamichhane, who coaches the Army team, also feels proud at getting a chance to coach these players. “I motivate them to learn the skills needed.”
Where do they play?
Participating in tournaments is not easy for these players and they cannot earn their livelihood by just playing basketball. Many hold jobs, and as such many teams did not get enough time to practice. “Most of my teammates do not have time to practice due to do their daily work,” said Magar.
Sharing a similar story, Ghimire said, “Most of my teammates have gone out of the Valley for their jobs. We haven’t practised for many days.”
Besides this, playground and equipment are other challenges for the players. The Army team has its own ground but the other teams do not. Therefore, they are practising
in other college’s or school’s grounds. “So, we have to wait for holidays to practice,” said Rajkarnikar.