ANSHUL BANSAL – THE PHOENIX
“I had nightmares in the ICU of being tied up in a trash bag with my limbs cut apart and dumped in the garbage area. I could feel the dogs eating me up.”
It was these words that kept repeating in my ears and couldn’t leave me. Never have I taken so long in putting words together for someone I have interviewed. For Anshul Bansal though, I did. A passionate army aspirant from Jaipur, Anshul knew well what it takes to achieve his goal, be it acing at his NCC camps or keeping himself in top shape. But destiny had other plans. Plans that were unimaginably brutal.
At 21, Anshul lost his right leg to a road accident that shook his world. But he fiercely battled long and hard and soon took over the reign of his fate. He moved on with tenacity in his mind and fire in the eyes. Even if that meant living his life with one leg but living it with his head held high and medals of honour for his country!
There is nothing that is impossible for Anshul. He’s a champion in almost all sports and adventure activities, perhaps better than most able-bodied. He truly exemplifies the ‘never give up’ attitude which has made him a medal winner athlete and Rajasthan’s first para-mountaineer. He proved, his comeback is definitely stronger than his setback!
Here’s a remarkable story of grit, courage and determination of 24-year-old Anshul Bansal.
GROWING UP WITH OBSTACLES OF LIFE
My elder sister and I had a typical middle class upbringing in Jaipur. My father was in the government service serving in the railways while my mother was a home maker. Both of them are big travel enthusiasts and thanks to them I have seen almost all of India on our train journeys.
Growing up wasn’t a very smooth ride for me.
“I suffered from TB when I was in class 1st and treated for 11 months. That was followed with asthma and kidney stones in class 5th. Then in class 7th, I was diagnosed with hypo-thyroid. Doctor declared that my height won’t go beyond 5’6″.”
It was papa who pushed me every morning at 4am to sweat it out with various kinds of physical exercises that included running, skipping, cycling and basketball.
I used to cry looking at other kids play. Papa always told me, ‘abhi ro raha hai, baad main hasega’. Thanks to him today I am 6 feet tall.
THE FAUJI DREAM
“I have always wanted to join the army. We used to go to Vaishno Devi and I used to get really fascinated when I saw those army officers’ uniform, the gun and their aura. ‘Kaam to sab karte hain but ye desh ke liye jeete hain’.”
I was an NCC cadet in school and college. During a camp in Jodhpur, I fractured my ankle while playing basketball but I did not tell anyone because I’d be disqualified. I somehow completed all the activities in the camp but when I returned to Jaipur I couldn’t even manage to drive a car. The doctor then plastered my ankle for 3 months!
WHEN THE WORLD TURNED AROUND 180 DEGREES
The word para itself turns around life around 180 degrees.
I was getting these ominous feelings for quite sometime. Just 4 days before the accident, I had also mentioned to someone ‘kuch galat hone wala hai’ after I got involved in a fight with some seniors.
“On 30th January 2018, my world crashed in front of my eyes. A bus rammed into my bike and I lost a leg during the accident.”
“I kept telling my mother, ‘kuchh bhi ho jaaye, mera pair mat katne dena’. I asked to put a rod in my leg for 2 years so I can join the army after that. But it was inevitable. I underwent multiple operations and two amputations.”
I am emotional yet practical in life. Different doctors were debating among themselves. I just wanted to tell them, ‘cut karna hai to kar do, beech mein latkao mat’.
“Thoughts of suicide did occur to me. At a time when it was my age to support my father, he was the one who had to pick me up and carry me. It pinched in my heart. I felt like a burden. I questioned myself, ‘main jee kyun raha hu’.”
I couldn’t even tell anyone what I was going through because looking at me, they thought I was fighting well. But inside I wasn’t able to fight at all.
My best buddy Shantanu got into depression after seeing my condition. My senior at NCC Keerthi Naresh looked after me like his son. He spent several nights with me in the hospital. Another friend Anmol left his job seminar to be with me at the hospital.
“Families don’t have an option but to be with you in all situations. But our friends do. These people left everything and were there for me at every step of the way. So I wanted to fight for them.”
RISING FROM THE ASHES LIKE A PHOENIX
Seven months after the accident, I even went to Goa. My friends literally carried me in their arms everywhere, to the beaches and to party.
“I do miss my leg. I haven’t been able to run because I can’t afford the running blades. I am scared to slip in the bathroom. My left leg often gets numb. That irritation of having one leg cannot go. I have after all spent 21 years with 2 legs.”
“One of the best prosthetic doctor once told me I should give up on cycling and mountaineering and start preparing for a government job. I was like ‘har baar main hi kyu. Jab TB, asthma aur thyroid ko hara diya, to ye bhi kar lunga’.”
But I was still determined to improve things for myself.
I did two 5Kms marathons which were more of a walkathon for me but I still wanted to participate.
I also went to an adventure park in Shimla where I did a lot of activities including the single rope walk which a lot of people were skipping because it was a difficult task. Seeing me on a prosthetic leg, the park people were telling me ‘paise kyun daale ismein, nahi kar paoge’. But I did it!
“I remember I asked my surgeon right the next day after my amputation if I can be a mountaineer. I told him I want to climb Kanchenjunga. He said, ‘tune aisa socha hai to tu zaroor karega’.”
In April 2019 I did the Kheerganga trek in Himachal. I often wanted to give up in between when my leg started to bleed but I still gathered the courage and finished it. My re-amputation happened later in 2019.
In 2020, I went for the Tungnath Shiv Mandir Trek in Uttarakhand at more than 11,000 feet.
“TOUGH TO BECOME AN ATHLETE, FOOLISH TO THINK OF BEING A PARA-ATHLETE”
“For the para-games in Jodhpur in February 2020, I trained on my own. ‘Bhagwan bharose practice kiya’ with whatever I could find on YouTube. I eventually won a silver in Shot Put and bronze in Javelin, Discus Throw and Power Lifting.”
“The problem in India is that the government doesn’t support us specially at the initial stage when we need it the most. I still haven’t received my prize money since a year which I was planning to use for my training equipment, coaches and nutrition needs. That’s why most athletes give up.”
I love mountaineering but I can’t rely on my father’s financial support for long. He says he will not say ‘no’ – ‘agar junoon hai to kar le khud struggle. Requirements like diet, special wheelchair, artificial limbs, doctor visits and coaches hi maar deta hai para athletes ko‘.
“Papa insists on a job for a secure furture. He said ‘itna bada ho gaya hai, kuchh nahi karta. Hum kab tak palenge tujhe. I felt even more miserable after hearing this, ‘bojh ki tarah’. But how can I take a job. I have to keep my fitness levels on top. My training takes up at least 6 hours of the day. And after all this, I also have to hear, ‘itni mehnat kyu kar raha hai, khelna hi to hai’.”
When people say, it is very difficult to become a para-athlete. I say, there are lakhs of people who attempt the UPSC and IIT exams but how many actually crack it?
“It is not to prove anything to the world but to restore the faith in myself that I can still do whatever any other person can.”
SETTING THE RECORD AT 20,000 FEET
“After I made the decision to summit the Yunam peak (Lahaul) in October 2020, I went to seek funds from the same hospital where I was operated in return of doing their orthopaedic department’s marketing as one of their successful stories. I asked for Rs 1,10,000. They offered me just Rs 10,000. I said take Rs 10,000 from me instead. I have that much capability to earn!”
My mama and a friend’s uncle eventually helped us with the funding.
Out of a team of ten people including an Everester, only me and my friend were professionally non-qualified without a mountaineering course certificate but only the two of us did not suffer any altitude sickness.
“My prosthetic loosened up because the muscles shrink in cold. I successfully summited the peak and came back none the less.”
“I keep pushing myself harder to shut that little voice in my head that keeps telling me things have changed now.”
But even after accomplishing this feat, I am unable to receive any sponsorship for any expeditions or athletic training.
NO ACTION WITHOUT SOME NOISE
Just 3 hours ago, I got to know that the state para-games are not taking place this year because of COVID-19 and I cannot apply directly for the nationals because of a classification card that I have not received. This means all my efforts have gone to waste. I feel dejected but this is what it is.
I can drive but I am not allowed to have a valid license because according to the government I’m extremely dangerous to the lives of others. I have signed many petitions but nothing changes.
“It is clear that everything is not possible. I have not failed. I will still do it. ‘Kaise karna hai ye pata nahi’. ‘Shaanti se cheezein nahi hoti’. Have to grab attention one way or the other.”
CATCHING SOME LIMELIGHT
“Through an amputees group on social media, I received a modelling assignment from an Indian prosthetic brand. They were very impressed with me when they saw I could swim, cycle, bike, play badminton, cricket, mostly all sports except football.”
“My funda is simple, zindagi kaati nahi jaati, jeene ka mauka mila hai khulke jiyo.”
“If you are struggling for something, that means you don’t love it enough. Passion is what will get you closer to your goal.”
Anshul manages to sustain his passion for sports and mountaineering through his part time income from the stock market and online fitness coaching. He is also a financial advisor after an exam he took.
Anshul hopes to accomplish larger goals as a mountaineer and athlete with support from the government and sponsorships from corporates.
Here’s a glimpse of Anshul in the Fupro ad.