|Learning to walk with club foot|
Most of the people I meet never realize that I have a club foot. I walk without limp, and it is after sometime one fine day that they will ask, "what happened to your leg?". I tell them I have club foot, which usually brings a shocked expression as they exclaim, “Oh! I am so sorry. I couldn't make it out at all”. For this I have to be grateful to a man who ignored my disability and instilled confidence in me.
He was our PT sir, who joined school when I was in second grade. We heard that he previously was an army man. He was very strict but at the same time good trainer. Many kids who never participated in physical activities were pulled into the games by him. He never allowed any excuse until he was sure that it was genuine one.
I used to give excuse of my club foot and not play much in school and never participated in the mass drill they organized every Saturday. I never wanted to be in competitions where others could mock my club foot or beat me badly in games. I played alone that is by running and cycling in the evenings.
The new trainer told me I had to do as much as possible and take rest if I truly had pain in my leg. We had a little argument but he won because he knew I used to walk quite long distance to school sometimes instead of waiting for the bus and also when I wanted to, I played quite well. For once there was a person who could not see my disability. To him I was like any other kid. He made me sweat it out and run like everyone. Initially I thought he was my enemy.. not in the category of my grandmother who made life miserable for me, but just a tiny bit of enemy; but later on I realized that I loved the way he treated me. No special kid treatment. Tough on me, forcing me to show my best, challenging me to reach a target and I knew this is the way I wanted people to treat me.
One day he told me to come and meet him in the lunch time after I finish my lunch. I knew he had some plan for me and by now I had started to trust him a lot.
“There is our new sports girl of the year” he welcomed me with a broad smile.
“I have something very serious to discuss with you. You have to trust me and believe in what I say. If you promise me not to feel hurt or brood over what I have said but only concentrate on what has to be done then I will go ahead and tell you something now”
I had expected something different and this was a bit confusing discussion. Now if a person knows he is going to say something that will hurt me and he doesn't want me hurt why should he say it at all? As I had developed some amount of respect for this man I decided to go ahead and listen to him
“You have a prominent limp and wrong gait when you walk. I think we can work on it and set your gait right but you have to work hard for it. You are young now and the habit of limp is not permanent. As years go by you will get used to it and change will be difficult. Shall we work on it every day hereafter?”
“What is gait?”
“It is the way you walk”.
“Sir, I have a club foot and it will make me limp no matter how hard I try. I have been trying to walk my best since last 3 years but this is the best I can do”.
“If you trust me then listen to me and let us work on it. I promise to make you walk better if you give me a chance. Please”.
I had no other option but to do as he says because usually he was a stern person who never said please, thank you etc. and when he said please I decided to do my best at whatever he says.
So the lunch break and another extra period were spent with him making me walk around, correcting me. When I tried to walk the way he told me to I hurt and tried to give up. But he would not allow that. Finally I was given instructions to do some more walking at home with one book balanced on my head and allowed to go to my class.
To my horror when I came back home I found that I could not take even two steps without dropping the book down. After an hour or so I could take 4 steps with the book balanced on my head. To do this I had to walk very slowly. Thus began my coaching at walking without a limp.
Also I was lured into participating in more sports. I found out to my amazement I could actually beat other kids in hop and catch, throw ball, dodge ball and kho-kho. Slowly I realized the bull chasing episode where I had overtaken my sister was not a fluke and I could actually beat many kids in running. It came as a big surprise to everyone around me and I was utterly shocked. I was beaming with happiness and pride off course.
Back at home this did not go down well with my family. They thought I am going to hurt myself and may end up being a real cripple by playing sports. I don’t blame them either, because my club foot did not give me good balance and I came home with wounded knees or elbows on most of the days. [The scars make me proud even to this day]
My aunt and mom decided to complain to the HM on PT Sir saying that he was forcing me to play games where as I could not play and did not like it. We were called into the office and questioned by the HM who asked me to confirm the complaint. My mom aunt kept talking in our mother tongue to me, urging me to tell the HM that I did not want to play games anymore. I refused. I was horrified to think they were blaming our PT Sir, when actually they had to be grateful to him for making me feel normal like any other kid. He did not say anything much nor defend himself. I was afraid that this was the end of my special coaching and I was very sad. But he totally ignored the episode and went on as though nothing had happened and never even thought of mentioning it ever again.
Few years down the lane after PT sir had first given me guidance, I could walk long distances with the book balanced on my head and also could climb stairs with it. That meant I had developed a balance and I had no prominent limp.
|The road leading from gate to convent on which we ran|
photographed recently when I visited the school.
That year when the school competitions were coming up, P.T. Sir told me to participate in running for my category. We were practicing in school where there was no track field. We were supposed to run on the mud road that led from our school gate to the convent house where the nuns lived. A teacher would give us the starting whistle from the gate and we had to run to the convent house where P.T. Sir would judge us.
This was the time when I could prove to myself that I really had it in me to run fast. Ready, steady .. Go! I started to run and forgot the whole world around me.. I did not see anyone nor heard anything. I could only see the target ahead of me and feel the ground below my feet. Suddenly a shooting pain ran up through my club foot and I was back to the world of reality where I found myself to be leading the pack. I wanted to stop and take care of my foot, but then I did not want to lose. Here I was overcoming my disability and pain was not going to stop me ….. I kept running and finally reached the line and collapsed to check out what had happened.
My foot was bleeding as something sharp object had pierced the canvas where it was worn out (it usually happened to the canvas shoe on my club foot due to pressure being on the small part of it) and left a cut on my foot but did not get embedded in. I had tears in my eyes but was not sure was it due to pain or due the joy of finally proving myself.
Slowly teachers and students started gathering around me and they were shocked to see so much of blood.. actually the scare was because no one knew the reason. Finally a teacher and P.T. Sir bandaged my foot and led me to take rest in the convent house. I had qualified for the sports meet to be held in a village nearby called Vartur. I was full of gratitude for the man who had helped me overcome my disability and said “Thank you sir”. He smiled and told me something which I remember even to this day when I have to fight a battle, “I am not sure about your legs girl, but your spirit is going to take you far”.
We kept practicing hard for the sports meet where most of the schools from our district were participating. For once my books were ignored. I did not want to let my school down. Between the hectic schedules of sports preparation, the days flew by and soon we were in Vartur.
My sister walked up to me and told me to take it easy. “Don’t kill yourself for winning” was her advice to me. A bout of nervousness hit me when I stood there among unknown students who looked tougher than our own school children. I looked away from them soon and concentrated on the target I had to reach. What scared me most were the comments I would get if I lost.
“Poor thing! She did so much, but what better could someone do with a club foot hindering them”
“Not bad for a handicapped girl”
“She would have won if not for that club foot of hers”
I tried to brush them away as I heard the words READY! Yes. I was ready to give my best and accept whatever came to me.
Soon enough I was running on the track. A girl whizzed past me and I expected more to do the same. But then, I did not much care about others but kept running as though my life depended on reaching that target first. For a moment I felt I was flying because my feet barely touched the ground and the feeling brought some kind of euphoria. I was nearing the tape and saw that it has been already touched by the girl who whizzed past me. I had lost. I stood second in the race. I had mixed emotions running through me. Then P.T. Sir walked up to me and gave a small pat on my back. “Good” he said and I heard his voice was emotional. I looked up and saw tears his eyes. Then my emotions became clear and I knew I had won. Second place was not sucking any more.
Even to this day I remember those tears. This gesture from a tough man who almost was unemotional, is more precious than any medal I could ever win….. He was the man who gave me confidence, and helped me overcome my limp without expecting anything in return. He doesn't even know that I realized how much he had influenced my life later on as I matured, because I have never been able to get in touch with him after he left school. He did not want to be a hero, he was trying to be a human being, a soldier who fought my battle against disability.