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Going the Distance–Sitting down with Sakshi Maheshwari

A girl with an unwavering spirit and determination, Sakshi Maheshwari is a final year student at KMC who battled against all the odds to triumph over every curveball that life threw at her. She met with a road accident in December 2016 which left her with multiple complicated fractures on all four of her limbs that were operated on using metal implants. She also suffered from head injuries and was in the intensive care unit at KMC for a long time. Her right leg and right arm experienced a loss of function. Unaware about the extent of her injuries, Sakshi soon realised that she wasn’t able to sit or stand up on her own. On September 30th, 2018, Sakshi finished a 21-kilometre marathon while she had spent most of the previous year trying to walk and get back on her feet. Her family’s immense support and belief guided her on the path to regaining her strength, physically and mentally. The MIT Post had the chance to interview her. Read on to know more.

In times when most people would give up, how did you find the motivation to bring about such a significant change to your life?

I always tried to believe in myself and the fact that I would definitely be able to walk on my own. On a few days, the physiotherapy sessions would hurt a lot, but I was determined to fight despite the pain. My family’s prayers and everyone’s well wishes got me through hard times. After I was discharged, my parents took me home, to Ahmedabad, where my recovery doubled. My uncle, Mr Sandesh Mundra, began to teach me a course on self-management slowly and I started to listen to lectures on positive thinking by Brahma Kumari Sister Shivani.

Even when the doctors told my parents that my chances of survival might be just 50 per cent, my dad was sure that I would make it through and he dreamt of the day when I would be able to run. Your body is essentially a product of your mind, and that’s how I channelled my recovery. I never doubted myself and had this vision of me, indefinitely running in the corridors of my apartment, while I was still on the wheelchair. I distinctly remember telling my friend that the day that I will start running I will never stop, and this thought process enabled me to get off the wheelchair.

Every morning when I would wake up, I felt like nothing ever happened to me, but when I’d take the first step, it would all come back. Going through the pain set me back for a few days, and I would wait for the day when it would finally end. Now, I know that I’m capable of overcoming everything, although this attitude wasn’t easy to develop.

Did you take part in marathons or run before the accident took place?

I never ran before the accident, and developed the love for running after it. While I was in the wheelchair, I realised that you can’t take even simple things, like running, for granted. I initially began jogging and felt so grateful because I was able to do it after so long. I looked around and saw people running and they were like superheroes to me. It felt really good to get on the track and train despite any bad runs.

What were the biggest challenges that you had to face when you first started training?

On a random day, I expressed my wish to run a marathon to my father. At that time, I didn’t believe it to be a possibility yet he took me to the park that very day, and it was my first step to start training for the marathon. I was scared of falling in the beginning; I would hold someone or the railing of the track for support. With the goal of running a marathon set firm in my mind, I started waking up early and took laps of the Marena. At first, I was just walking and then eventually I began to jog although my progress was slow and the rods and screws implanted in my legs would start to hurt. The doctors forced me to take rest due to complications but I had started the year with confidence, and I wasn’t going to give in to any excuses.

Dr Girish Menon, my professor who is also a runner, asked me to join the Manipal Runner’s Club (MRC). All the members of MRC supported my dream and gave me tips on how to train to improve my stamina. The first marathon that I completed on road was Footsteps to Inspire, which was organised by MRC.

My training period was almost three months long before I could run. Life is too short to be waiting for that perfect day or time or in my case, the perfect body. I’m glad that I didn’t wait to recover entirely before I started training and got through the entire process despite my injuries. The day that I ran for the first time came after months of constant physiotherapy and balance exercises along with numerous splint and shoe changes. Every run makes me stronger and gives me the confidence to surpass any obstacles that I might face.

What did running and successfully completing the marathon feel like? What was your strategy and what was everyone’s reaction on seeing you cross the finish line?

I had run the marathon and crossed the finish line many times in my head. I used my mental strength to complete it by mapping out what my thought process would be during a particular stretch of kilometres. The entire marathon is a mental game; you’re wrestling your mind. If you believe that you can do it, you will be able to get through it. I had never gone that much distance before, and I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to finish the marathon or not. Dr Girish and all the members of MRC motivated me throughout all my runs and even during the marathon. They translated my dreams into reality, and they were always there for me whether I was fast or slow.

I had a smile on my face during the first few kilometres, but I fell down and injured my knee around the twelve-kilometre mark. I kept running because if I had stopped, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the race. My muscles began to spasm, so I started taking short breaks of ten seconds after running a small stretch of kilometres. In the last kilometre, the MRC runners came back and cheered for me which was amazing, I picked up my pace again and had a huge smile on my face when I crossed the finish line.

There were many negative opinions and complications, such as ankle dislocation, that could arise but finishing the marathon was my dream. My family has always been on my side even if it meant going against what was advised by the physiotherapists and doctors. In support of my dreams, my family also runs in marathons now. My sister and I ran my second marathon together, and my father has completed four marathons of ten kilometres each. My mother is training for the Mangalore marathon where she aims to cross ten kilometres.

Do you have any hobbies or interests apart from running?

I’m actually a Bharatanatyam dancer. The 20th of January this year marks 11 years since my Arangetram. I enjoy dancing a lot, however, this particular dance form is very harsh on my quads and I’m not yet in a position to perform properly. I’m trying my best to practice regularly so I can get back to my old form. In fact, just a few days ago I was able to do the Namaskaram for the first time. Ideally, by 2020 I should be able to dance.

Did you have to change the way you study and attend classes, after the accident?

As a student, I found a lot of difficulty in coming back to the academic setting. I would have to force myself to write notes in every single class no matter how difficult it was. The implants in my limbs made it hard for me to move around, and sitting through an entire lecture became incredibly painful. By the end of every class, I would be in excruciating pain. I used to take the ability to sit for an hour for granted, but now even that basic task had become difficult. In general, the academic rigour combined with my hectic recovery goals was quite overwhelming at times.

As a medical practitioner, the incident has given me a new perspective on the role of mental strength and its impact on physical recovery and health. I can now confidently say from personal experience that a positive mindset can push your recovery a long way.

How did the accident change your view of life?

In a lot of ways, I’m a much stronger person now than I used to be. I remember when I first came back to Manipal, one of the hardest things to deal with was the countless questions from the people around me. When someone asked me about the accident, I’d often pretend to not hear it and hoped they would let it go. But eventually, I would have to acknowledge them and relive the painful memories. Whenever you stand out in any way from a crowd, people are bound to make snide comments or remarks. My father would always tell me that it shouldn’t matter to me what people say, because I know who I am.

My other big challenge was to make a full physical recovery. The drive I needed to have to get through physiotherapy and running every morning really helped me become a more strong-willed person. Every time I run, I always feel that if I can get through this, then I can get through anything else that life throws at me

What advice would you give to someone who has just started to train for a marathon?

One of the most important things to do before you get started is to ensure that you have a good support group. For me, that was the MRC. It always helps to have people around you to push you through the tough times, and to hold you accountable when you start slacking.

While training for a marathon, you don’t have to run every day. It is also important to work on strengthening your core to ensure that your body can withstand the physical toll that the long run will take on you. During a run, you often begin to feel yourself fading, either due to physical pain or tiredness. I have learned to use the pain as motivation to help me go the distance.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to just get up, put on your shoes and go running. If you can be consistent with that, you can achieve any goal or any distance. Just like most things in life, running is a mental game. It often helps me to make plans for something I enjoy after the race to keep myself motivated during the run. Believe in yourself and never give in to self-doubt.

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