In 2011, 26-year-old Arunima Sinha lost one of her legs after she said she was thrown off a moving train when she resisted a group of robbers.
On 21 May, she stood on top of the world, defying all conceivable odds, and achieved what was unthinkable to many. “I turned my artificial leg into my strength and stubbornly chose the most difficult sport for myself,” says Ms Sinha, a former national-level volleyball player.
There are inspiring words from an extraordinary woman. Also, a stunning demonstration of how she turned her supposed weakness into a winning force.
“When I reached the summit, I felt like screaming at the top of my voice. I wanted to tell the world: here I am. I have saved that moment inside me,” she says. “Actually, my screaming did not last long. You see, I didn’t have much energy left. Had I been a painter, I would have tried to capture that image on a canvas,” she adds.
Just two years ago, Ms Sinha says it was her “darkest hour”. Her life changed when she was “pushed out of the train” after she refused to hand over her gold chain to robbers.
Police disputed her version – they said she was either attempting suicide or had jumped out to evade arrest for travelling without a valid ticket. The fate of the case is unknown.
Ms Sinha was admitted to hospital with serious leg and pelvic injuries. Doctors had to amputate her left leg below the knee to save her life. A rod had to be inserted inside her leg to provide support to the damaged limb.
“I was shattered. Here was someone who was totally independent, and now I was dependent on others for support. Visitors who came to see me at the hospital showed sympathy. But then I decided to do something that would inspire others.”
She says her family’s support gave her immense confidence.
“I decided to challenge myself with the toughest sport. And I chased my dream with passion.”
Equipped with a prosthetic leg and an iron will, Ms Sinha rang up Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to scale Mount Everest in 1984, as soon as the hospital discharged her four months later.
She had read about Pal but did not know her personally. Pal heads an adventure foundation, supported by India’s Tata Steel company, in the city of Jamshedpur in the eastern state of Jharkhand.
Sinha underwent a year of rigorous training in Uttarkashi in the northern state of Uttarakhand which demanded toughness – both physical and mental.
“I felt low when I couldn’t catch up with other ‘normal’ able-bodied people. But I was determined to outpace them. And I did,” she says.
It took her 52 days of torturous climbing on the snowy peaks to conquer the 8,850m (29,000 ft) summit.
At one point, fearing that her energy and oxygen levels were depleting fast, her team leader suggested that she return. But she refused.
While descending, she began to sweat so profusely that at one point she felt the prosthetic leg would slip out.
“I couldn’t take off my gloves to support the leg for fear of frostbite, so I dragged myself till the camp,” she says.
Ms Sinha has dedicated her achievement “to those who lose hope”.
She is now busy with plans to open a sports academy for the poor and physically challenged children. For this purpose, she has already bought a piece of land in Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh.
“I want to train these children so that they achieve their dream. This is my dream too,” she says.