She The First | Arunima Sinha: Pushed From Train, Lost a Leg, but Scaled the Top

A terrible accident, a shattered dream but she fought back. Arunima won six world records in six years.

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Illustrations & Graphics: Aroop Mishra and Kamran Akhter

(This story was first published on 20 October 2021. It has been republished from The Quint's archives on the occasion of International Women's Day.)

April 2011 – somewhere between Lucknow and Delhi – a national-level volleyball player with dreams of joining the paramilitary forces, met with a terrible accident. She was thrown off a running train, for resisting robbers. She tragically lost a leg. But lying on the hospital bed, she had two options — accept her fate and give up or give her dreams a fighting chance. She chose her dreams.

But she was laughed at when she spoke of her dreams and the will to fulfil them too. She was even accused of lying about her accident. But the more people tried to pull her down, the higher she scaled. And in less than two years, she was literally ON TOP OF THE WORLD.

This is the story of Dr Arunima Sinha – the world's first woman amputee to scale Mt Everest – the world's tallest mountain above sea-level, the highest point on Earth. And Arunima didn't just stop at that. Here's her incredible journey.

Dr Arunima Sinha

(Photo: Altered by The Quint)


The Fateful Night that Changed Arunima's Life 

Born in Uttar Pradesh's Ambedkar Nagar on 20 July 1989, Arunima loved cycling and football, but volleyball was where she first found her calling. Her father was in the Indian Army and her mother was a health worker. A seven-time national volleyball player, she wanted to join the paramilitary forces.

When she got a call letter from CISF(Central Industrial Security Force), it was a dream come true. Arunima rushed to Delhi for the exams. But the fateful night of 12 April 2011 changed her life forever.

Arunima boarded the Padmavati Express from Lucknow. That night some robbers entered her coach. They started robbing other passengers. They tried to snatch her bag and gold chain too but she fought back.

(Graphics: Kamran Akhter)

At that very moment, another train was approaching on the parallel track. She banged against it and fell. When both the trains passed, leaving behind a deafening silence, Arunima tried to lift herself up, but failed.

She realised that her one leg was cut off. She felt a terrible pain in the other leg too. She kept shouting all night, in pain and for someone to come to her rescue. But nobody did. Arunima recalls how small rats on the tracks started chewing on her cut leg. She spent the whole night like that. Only next morning, she was spotted by villagers who rescued her and immediately rushed her to the nearest hospital.


Lying on the Hospital Bed, She Decided to do the Unthinkable 

Arunima got rods in her right leg and multiple fractures in her spinal cord. But adding insult to her injury, the police alleged that Arunima was lying about her accident. They claimed that she was either attempting suicide or had met with an accident while crossing the tracks. They denied the robbery theory.

But the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court ordered the Indian Railways to pay her an additional compensation of Rs 5,00,000. The Centre offered her another compensation of Rs 2,00,000 and a recommendation for a job in CISF.

Arunima was transferred to Delhi's AIIMS for further treatment. A private company provided her with a prosthetic leg. And one day, lying on her hospital bed, she decided to do the unthinkable. Resuming volleyball was an easier challenge. She wanted to show the world what she was capable of and so, she chose mountaineering.

Arunima with a prosthetic leg

(Photo: Altered by The Quint)


Baby Steps to Being Reborn 

After being released from the hospital, before going home, Arunima met Bachendri Pal — the first Indian woman to scale Mount Everest. And expressed her desire to train under Pal to be able to conquer Mt Everest like her.

Arunima started training under Pal. Soon, she joined the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. For Arunima, whose wounds were still fresh, the training wasn't easy at all. But she was determined.

Arunima training for expedition

(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

And in less than two years, she was ready to start her Everest expedition, with Sherpa Neema Kancha.

Most of the climbing is done at night when the weather is calm. When Arunima left South Col camp that night, wherever her headlight pointed, she could only see dead bodies. But she scaled on. And when she was too close to the finishing line, she got a big jolt from her Sherpa.

On Top of the World 

On 21 May 2013, at 10.55 am, Arunima created history. She hoisted the national flag at Mt Everest, becoming the world's first woman amputee to scale the world's highest peak. It took her 52 days to reach the summit.

Despite thinning oxygen supply and constant warnings from her Sherpa, Arunima decided to wait at the peak for a few more minutes to quickly record a video of her achievement.

But, on her way back to the base, she completely ran out of oxygen and fell to the ground. Gasping for breath, she somehow told her Sherpa, "If I don't survive today, please make sure my video reaches India so that my conquest inspires every person who ever thinks of giving up."

A British climber who had decided to return without scaling the peak that day, had thrown away an extra oxygen cylinder. Sherpa Kancha quickly picked up the cylinder and that saved Arunima's day.


Five More World Records 

Arunima didn't stop with the Everest. Over the next five years, she scaled the highest peaks of five other continents.

  • 11 May 2014: Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa

  • 25 July 2014: Mt Elbrus, Europe

  • 20 April 2015: Mt Kosciuszko, Australia

  • 25 December 2015: Mt Aconcagua, South America

  • 1 January 2019: Mt Vinson, Antarctica

She hoisted the tricolour on all of these peaks, becoming the world's first woman amputee to conquer the six highest peaks of six continents.

  • 01/06

    At Mt Everest

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>At Mt Everest</p></div>
  • 02/06

    At Mt Kilimanjaro

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>At Mt Kilimanjaro</p></div>
  • 03/06

    At Mt Elbrus

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>At Mt Elbrus</p></div>
  • 04/06

    At Mt Kosciuszko

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>At Mt Kosciuszko</p></div>
  • 05/06

    At Mt Aconcagua

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>At Mt Aconcagua</p></div>
  • 06/06

    At Mt Vinson

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>At Mt Vinson</p></div>

And there's still more to Arunima. She wrote 'Born Again on The Mountain' in 2014. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2015. She was also awarded the Tenzing Norgay Award, the highest mountaineering award in India. She was conferred an honorary doctorate by the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Britain in 2018.

  • 01/04

    Arunima's book

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Arunima's book</p></div>
  • 02/04

    Arunima conferred honorary doctorate

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Arunima conferred honorary doctorate</p></div>
  • 03/04

    Padma Sri

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Padma Sri</p></div>
  • 04/04

    Tenzing Norgay Award

    (Photo: Arunima Sinha/Altered by The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Tenzing Norgay Award</p></div>

She currently runs a charitable organisation called 'Arunima Foundation', aiming to empower women and specially-abled people. Reborn in the mountains, even the sky is not the limit for Arunima.

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Topics:  Mt Everest   Arunima Sinha   She The First 

Edited By :Tania Thomas
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