“My heart stopped twice, my lung was filled with fluids, all my organs failed.”

She has no arms. She has no legs. Below the hem of her shorts her body is balanced on a pair of delicate looking blades that are bent, sharp and shiny. Their shape reminds you of a kangaroo’s legs. They look deadly!

On a cold crisp gloomy Bangalore morning, Shalini is one of the earliest people to hit the Kanteerva stadium for her morning practice sessions. And she is running with everything she’s got. Within minutes she is slick with sweat, and her thick pony sways with each ragged breath she takes. Slowly she picks up speed and leaves you mesmerized.

She runs like the wind is propelling her forward with the combined energy of every life force around. When she moves the stubs for her arms, she looks like she is fighting an inner war with the inky deal life chose to hand her. She is damned well not taking it sitting down! Sweat is now freely flowing off her face and back and she is smiling back at the other runners regular on the circuit.

When she slows down and grounds to a halt, it is to adjust the braces that hold her prosthetic. “Yeah…on humid days the prosthetics get extremely sweaty. So once your sweat builds up, the legs get extremely uncomfortable. They have to be removed and put back on.”  She fluidly starts sprinting again and your heart thuds into your ears and an irrational need to hug this girl real tight makes to well-up. This girl, is the real deal!

She ran the prestigious TCS 10K marathon in Bangalore  using these advanced prosthesis. Wondering what they are? Take a look at these pictures.

These are the carbon-fibre running blades she wore for her 10k run.

“Imagine being in really pointy high heels and then imagine being on a trampoline.” That’s how hard running in the best equipment in the world really is! Far from agreeing, she says she feels “badass” in them. Twice during her marathon she had to take them off. Probably because the blades took a month in fitting and she got them just “two weeks and two days” before her first marathon on a loan from a German company. The equipment costs a whopping Rs. 10 lakh but “they haven’t asked them back yet. So the understanding is that they are permanently on loan,” she laughs.

Training on weekdays with her coach Aiyappa, Shalini confesses to questioning her sanity every time the alarm went off at 5 am. What kept her going was this- “sheer sense of accomplishment and feeling that I grew my wings…added a few bones and feathers each day….my wings of freedom!”

She has also resumed her career as Deputy General Manager with First Source Solutions. She types with the tiny stub of a finger in her right hand. “It’s not really an issue. I have a team that reports into me.”  

She is at the airport security rushing off to Mumbai to receive an award by the Indian Merchants Chamber for being an “iconic woman or some such”, she says with disarming candour and instantly we are both laughing!  

She is training for the 2020 Paralympics in Japan, “but I still have to qualify and that’s 4 years from now. So that’s a journey.” Nothing scares this chic!

During our short chat she anticipates my questions and gently guides me to her blog, leaving me to log-in and read goggle-eyed.

Her blog Soul Survived Intact has a precious handful of articles spread over two years starting from August 2015. By that time, it had been 3 years since “her life changed.”

This is her story.

Killer Bacteria

“Then a day comes.. with a switch of a button – change.
I came back from a holiday from Cambodia(yes, that was a tick on my bucket list), completed a stressful and decently successful client visit(for those in the BPO/ITES field, you know what this means) , knew that i was pregnant, knew that i would get promoted – all poised to only BIGGER things in life, well i had no idea how BIG a card life dealt me.

It started out with a fever, and then to multi organ failure, to a coma, to a tango with death(not going into details, as this is stuff i could make a movie on and earn copyrights!) and finally surviving it with a two year stint recovering, however losing all my limbs in the battle(if you are shocked, that was exactly what i was aiming for). I was affected by a rare bacteria Ricketssial with morts(a doctor told me that the only time he heard of this bacteria is in his exam paper!! trust me to find a bacteria so rare) which usually results in death, and along with my pregnancy related complications, it resulted in thrombosis(clotting of blood vessels)of extremities.”

What followed can only be described as series of events that though incalculable in pain and suffering have led Shalini to metamorphose as an inspiration to every person out there dealing with unimaginable life changes and slaying horrible demons one day at a time.

“I was on the life support system, my heart stopped twice, my lung were filled with fluids, all my organs failed. The doctor’s gave my family a 5% chance of recovery. The doctor told Prashanth that closest friends and family should see me, as this is probably the last chance to see me alive.

But I survived it – I survived only because of so many prayers.

I want to believe collective prayers, positive thoughts has the power to defeat death. 

I want to believe an angel visited me and that’s the reason I live…

“Why me?”

Such belief is not easy to come by. Never once to mince words, Shalini admits to terrible lows.

“These years though difficult and painful(mentally and physically), opened my eyes to a very different world. I was upset, hurt, angry at everyone who could walk or even itch and the constant battle of WHY ME! In time, and with wonderful constant support of friends(I love you guys!) and my family i have now reached a state of liking who i am(with or without limbs).
However while i dealt with my inner demons, the world just stared at me for being disabled!”

Her blog is full of funny asides and ironies where she laughs at her flashing anger while on life support in a hospital. Her horrifyingly close encounters with death are treated with a delicate brush when she describes her coming-in and out of consciousness in her drug addled hospital bed as everyone getting “exit” stamped on her passport.

Shalini lost one arm to amputation, while the other just fell off. Called an auto-amputation when the body discards what it no longer needs. Eventually the gangrene had spread to her legs too. She can still recall the smell of rotting flesh when she woke up one morning.

“We took the decision to go ahead with amputating the legs the next month. I was relieved – I knew I could only move forward now and there is no stopping me.

I arrived at the hospital with the brightest purple nail polish on my feet. If my legs were going out, they were going to go out in style!”

Wings fitted, ready to fly!

Running first started as a simple way to free her from the constraints her body laid out.

“Well the original plan was to run with my legs (for you guys prosthetics legs). We’ve (Coach Aiyappa and I) been training for about two years. I wake up at 5 am and work out at Kanteerava Stadium. I go for Pilates with Anisha Naidu 2-3 times a week. Both their primary goals has been to make my life as miserable and tough as possible (You need to read this as “build strength and endurance).

It’s been a journey – one that has required me to push myself every single day. Not just my body, but realising that it’s my mind that makes me go the last 100 metres.”

No kids- says Shalini

“The Universe intervened and I lost my baby in the bargain to stay alive. We further made the decision that we weren’t going to have children.  

Was it an easy decision? Absolutely no. Was it a practical decision? Absolutely yes.

Do I miss motherhood? In teeny bits and parts.”

Without limbs she is dependent on the people around her to help her. She has a nurse coming in the morning, and her parents live with her and help. “And my husband is also around, so between us we kind of get the jobs done,” she says as she sips a drink at the airport. I can hear her smile as she talks.

How many of us are really smiling at the airport?

Her own ‘awww’ moment

“While I was running at Cubbon park recently, I passed by two little boys. I heard one say to the other “See ra…see her shoes”, to which the other said “Super cool da”. And of course they were referring to my blades.

All these moments take you by surprise. Each of them reacted to disability in whatever way they had deemed fit, and the most beautiful part is that they did not come with judgments – it is what it is!

I’ve learnt you don’t need to be a mother, to have your ‘aww’ moments.”

Amen to that!

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