She doesn't consider herself physically challenged, she has such tremendous drive and energy that she is out to redefine words like disabled and handicap. Deepa Malik is a special person and is looking forward to participate for the first time in the Paralympics in Beijing.
"Why refer to people as disabled? Why not call them 'specially abled'? My fight is to change this mentality," says Malik, a Paralympic probable who vrooms on a bike specially designed for her.
Malik, 38, became confined to a wheel chair after being operated thrice in 1999 for a tumour, which left her a paraplegic.
The setback, however, didn't deter Malik who says that she has learnt to deal with the trauma from her childhood.
"I was first declared a neurological case when I was six year old. I was in the hospital for eight months and it took me one and a half years to completely recover. But my parents never let me feel low about it," Malik told IANS in an interview.
For someone who has been an avid sports person all her life, having played basketball and cricket at school level, it was not easy to grapple with realities of life.
"The doctors gave me a week before the operation. I was told that I will walk into the operation theatre, but will come out in a wheel chair. Moreover, my husband was there in Kargil, and all my other relatives were also out of station. I was all on my own."
"But I have a fantastic husband and the entire family stood behind me," she said.
Deepa's tryst with sports after being paralysed happened when she had to jump in the pool to allay her daughter's fear of water and swim.
"Though I was only in the corner holding the support railing, I realized I am able to swim. From there, I took on and one day president of Ahmednagar Paralympic Association asked me to represent the state of Maharashtra," she proudly recounts.
Malik says opening her own garden restaurant Dees Place was the turning point in her life as it gave her a sense of independence.
"Though I was a happy person despite being confined to a wheelchair, people seem to stay away from me, thinking they should not bother me whereas I was keen on meeting people.
"Today I have 14-15 school dropouts, mainly poor and orphaned boys working in my restaurant. And I give them a source of income to go to school. Some of them have started going to school now," she said.
Malik stresses that counselling is a must for every person with "special ability", something which she felt when she herself went through counselling under Arun Sodhi, a paralytic, at the Indian Spinal Cord Injury Centre in Delhi.
It was here she got fascinated by the picture of Sodhi's bike and from there the idea to have her own bike caught her imagination, which landed her in MTV's "Roadies".
"Royal Challenge decided to sponsor my bike. I felt that I have to become a role model to sensitise people suffering from any form of handicap. For that I knew I'd have to be active. What better way, than to target the youth?"
"At the 'Roadies', people lifted me with the wheelchair for ten minutes! It was a great feeling."
The "cool mom", as her daughters call her, is now determined to introduce at least five girls in Paralympic sports by the Commonwealth 2010 games.
"I am from a financially secure background but lots of poor people cannot afford to do this. So to bring them into the fold, I'll have to face the barrier of status and finances besides, of course, the age barrier. But I will do it," she said.
She also feels passionately about raising proper infrastructure for the physically challenged and through her stint in sports she wants to bring about the awareness among people.
Malik, who has competed in the freestyle and backstroke swimming, is also the first person in India to compete in the breast-stoke category.
Now with 15 medals to her name, her latest achievements, including her being ranked fourth in the world in javelin and discuss events, Malik is all geared for Paralympics in javelin.
"My bike has taken a backseat for now. I am going to work hard for it, hopefully I get a chance to represent India and come back with a medal," she signs off.