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Someswara Rao's Resilience: How Sports Gave Him a Second Lease on Life
Someswara Rao's Resilience: How Sports Gave Him a Second Lease on Life

New Delhi: When a landmine exploded in the Uri region of J&K in 2013, Someswara Rao continued to suffer from the pain of losing his left leg below the knee. The young soldier was still receiving therapy when he had the thought to end it all one day. He hopped to the restroom while holding a sword. But a call to a friend saved his life.

“It’s because my mom called me that day that I am sitting here and talking to you today. When I heard my mom’s voice, I started weeping and then just fell unconscious. For the next 10 days, I was in and out of the ICU,” Rao, 33, told according to reports.

The amputation brought up painful memories, despite his commitment to himself that he would never entertain such ideas again. However, a chance encounter with an Army paratriathlete named Lt. Colonel. Gaurav Dutta offered him a new lease on life.

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Rao started competing in track and field after being inspired by Lt Colonel Dutta, 54, whom he met at the Artificial Limb Centre in Pune. Long jump is the event in which he will represent India in the Para Asian Games in Hangzhou later this year. He first competed as a blade runner.

Lt. Col. Dutta played a crucial role in establishing the Army's Paralympics Node (APN) in 2017. Eight trainees from APN, including Rao, will compete for India in the October 22–28 Para Asian Games.

The jumpers will include Rao, Solai Raj, and Unni Renu, while Jasbir Singh and Ajay Kumar will compete in the 400-meter race. Taking part in the shot put competition are Hokato Sema, Soman Rana,and Virender in action.

When Rao enlisted in the Indian Army's 11 Madras Regiment in 2011, he eagerly anticipated being assigned to the Uri zone. He was enlisted into the Ghatak Platoon, a renowned regiment comprised of the best troops in the nation.

Recalling the day when his life changed, Rao said, “A landmine had gone off in a trench in Uri the previous night. We went there to inspect and since it was pitch dark we had light flares…. That night nothing happened. But the next morning, while we were going back to the trench, I stepped on a landmine.”

“That’s a path we had taken so many times but that day it wasn’t the same,” said Rao, who has also won multiple international Grand Prix medals in sprints.

Ajay Kumar, a 33-year-old soldier of the 12 Dogra Regiment, had a similar tale. Ajay, another member of Ghatak Platoon, also lost a limb while conducting reconnaissance in the Uri region when a landmine exploded. He received an administrative job following the 2017 incident, something he never relished.

“I felt out of place. I just called up Dutta sahab and said I can’t do this, please let me join sports. Sports has given us a second innings in life. If it weren’t for sports, I don’t think we would be this happy,” Ajay said.

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Even though Lt. Colonel. Dutta's intervention altered the lives of countless children, he is still not content because there is still much to be done in India's parasports industry.

“I understand what these men go through. Just a day back you were a warrior and then the very next day you think you aren’t even fit enough to work in the fields. I mentor them and tell them about sports and how big it is to even compete in events,” said Lt Colonel Dutta, who survived landmine injuries in 2001.

Shot putter Hokato Sema claimed that "Dutta Sahab" was also responsible for his introduction to athletics.

The soldier from the 9 Assam Regiment chose to participate in an operation along the LoC in 2002 while still a teenager.The 9 Assam Regiment soldier was just a teenager when he opted to take part in an operation at the LoC in 2002. “When I raised my hand my officer asked me ‘Why do you want to go? You’re so young?’ A close friend from Nagaland also told me it was too risky. We both wanted to eventually join the special forces (para commandos),” said the 39-year-old Hokato, who qualified for the Asiad based on rankings and tryouts.

After the J&K mission, nearly Hokato and his companion both announced that they will sign up for the special forces. “We were exchanging fire with infiltrators. And while running on the snow I stepped on a landmine. My dreams of being a para commando were shattered,” said Hokato.

Hokato worked in administration for the Army for the subsequent 14 years without ever considering sports. The Nagaland resident submitted a request for voluntary retirement in 2016 and left for home at the time. For the next 14 years, Hokato served the Army in admin-related work and never gave sports a thought. In 2016, the Nagaland resident applied for voluntary retirement and was on his way home. “Then Dutta Sahab called me and said I should do sports. I didn’t even know that para-sports was a thing back then,”said the 2017 China Grand Prix bronze medallist.

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