From taking a casual dip in a traditional well in India’s scorching summers, to pulling off competition swims in Australian waters, Pradip Kumbhar is the epitome of a champion.
“To dive into a well with my mates was fun, but I don’t think I ever considered this a serious profession,” the 52-year-old tells Indian Link.
And yet, here he is, clutching four medals that he won at the recently concluded Pan Pacific Masters Games 2022 in Gold Coast, Queensland.
Kumbhar secured the first place in 800m breaststroke, 400m breaststroke, 100m freestyle and 100m breaststroke.
All of these, with a prosthetic limb.
His heroic rise from a devastating accident in which he lost his right leg, is his least admirable quality. Indeed, his entire life is a masterclass in courage and confidence.
At Gold Coast, he was one of 13,500 participants from 25 countries, competing in 42 different sports in a 10-day multi-sport championship.
Run, Pradip, run!
Pradip Kumbhar’s sporting journey began late in his adult life, when he participated in the 6-km Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon.
“I was not a runner – my job was to wear a T-shirt with my company IDBI’s logo and parade with the company banner,” he laughs.
Yet it changed the course of his life.
Another runner had caught his attention – a Belgium-based COO of the company. “I watched him run 22 km from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus station to Sea-Link in Bandra, and back. I was fascinated. How could a man much older to me do this with such ease and rigour?”
Pradip Kumbhar took to marathons like a fish to water. “I don’t think there is a single marathon in India that I did not run,” he laughs.
“I then took to BRM [Brevet de Randonneur Mondiaux] cycling, once riding 200 kms from Mumbai to Pune.”
Inspired by a friend Krishna Prasad, the first IG rank officer to complete Ironman and Ultraman triathlons, Kumbhar trained in swimming, with the Ironman Malaysia event in mind. His company sponsored his tour and encouraged him to win gold.
But life had other plans for him.
Two months away from the championship, Kumbhar was training one morning, cycling on the Vasai Western Express Highway.
He was in the aero-bike position when hit by a truck. Both his legs were crushed under the giant wheels of the trolley. The driver didn’t stop, nor did any other motorist as Kumbhar lay bleeding on the highway.
While his left leg sustained severe injuries, the right leg was lost beyond hope. And yet, Kumbhar carried it with him into the ambulance, in hope that the surgeons might be able to reattach.
The call of God
The doctors counselled him before amputating.
“I remember lying on the hospital bed thinking, what next? I have a home loan, kids’ education, a family to fend…”
An 18-minute phone call brought him back on track. The caller was none other than the God of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar.
“In 2004, Sachin was out of the game due to a tennis elbow. He slipped into depression, he told me. But something kept him strong and going. He told me to find my purpose to stay put. That call changed my life!”
Kumbhar and Tendulkar had met at IDBI marathons. Tendulkar is the brand ambassador of the campaign, and Kumbhar was a regular participant.
“After Sachin’s call, I told myself I am not going to stop running or swimming. But where do I begin?”
Kumbhar took inspiration from retired Indian Army officer Major DP Singh. A Kargil veteran, 49-year-old Singh is the country’s first blade runner, using a prosthetic limb to run marathons across the world.
“If he could do it, I could too,” Kumbhar decided. “He got me to join a group called The Challenging Ones – a self-help support network of the differently-abled.”
Here, Kumbhar learned to navigate small things like getting out of bed and dressing himself.
Ten months after the accident, Kumbhar could use a walker, then slowly moved to crutches. Well-wishers told him to take it easy, but he wanted to return to his Lower Parel office.
Getting on the train was impossible at first, but with superhuman effort, Kumbhar learned to travel by himself.
Almost a year after the mishap, Pradip Kumbhar was back at work!
A weekend trip to the sporting goods store Decathlon brought Kumbhar one step closer to his goal. He still had to tick cycling off his list, didn’t he?
“A friend who works at the store told me to get on a bike. Hesitating, I hopped on. Wore my helmet and pedalled. He held my bike for two rounds; the third one, I did on my own! And just like that, my life was back on track,” he smiles.
Kumbhar says he couldn’t have achieved any of this without his family and friends.
“I’m excited about my win in Australia, but even more to explore the country – heading to Sydney now after the Games,” Pradip Kumbhar smiles.
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