Allahabad’s 20-year-old wheelchair-bound athlete Sandeep Pal is caught between a rock and a hard place. The former Khelo India Youth Games silver medalist in gymnastics is torn between hope and despair at Hyderabad’s rehabilitation center these days.
With the hope of walking again, Sandeep did an endless search to locate Hyderabad’s rehab center. It has all the modern equipment he needs to regain fitness. A good rehab would be beneficial to help him walk again, according to Sandeep.
The worrying factor, however, is the lack of funds to sustain a long rehab program. In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Sandeep said:
“The doctor overseeing my rehab program in Hyderabad believes I would be able to walk again. The rehab process might take over a year or more. For that, I need to have adequate funds."
The son of a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) in the Indian Army said funds have nearly dried up. Since June 2020 his parents have spent over INR 8 lakhs for his rehab.
“Since my father is retiring at the end of this year. He is the only earning member in the family. My elder brother is yet to get a job. Under the current circumstance it would be difficult for my family to support me,” he said.
Sandeep has approached some people for financial support but is yet to get a positive response.
The young gymnast from Allahabad was considered to have the potential to excel at the international level. He was selected for the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Khelo India gymnastics scheme in January 2019. The project was run from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Indoor Sports Complex.
How did Sandeep injure himself?
The tragic incident happened in February 2020. SAI gymnastics coach Chandrakant Rao was on election duty and Sandeep was training on his own.
While performing double back floor exercises, during a training session Sandeep landed on his neck, injuring his spinal cord. Since then he has been wheelchair bound. Sandeep alleges SAI covered up the whole incident and failed to support him financially.
“SAI initially gave funds for my surgery conducted at a local hospital in New Delhi. Once the surgery was complete SAI didn’t give any grant for rehabilitation. I was in hospital from February to June 2020. Due to lack of funds, I had to quit hospital,” explains Sandeep.
Despite winning medals at the national level since 2018, Sandeep was removed from the scheme due to poor performances. Moreover, SAI failed to inform the athlete about any possible insurance coverage for an injured athlete.
“Post surgery I was struggling for life at the hospital. Instead of encouraging me, SAI shot me a letter saying that I wasn’t part Khelo India project and stopped funding for my rehab. I had to quit the hospital in June and I had to go back to Allahabad,” he said.
Sandeep’s main goal in January 2020 was to excel in gymnastic discipline at the All India Inter University. The 2020 Khelo India Youth Games silver medalist in the rings was selected for the final inter-varsity trials. His dreams were shattered when he was injured on February 5, 2020.
The main focus now, said the wheelchair-bound former gymnast, was to improve his body movements. Sandeep said he had shifted to Hyderabad from Allahabad last month to undergo a rehab program.
“The rehab center in Hyderabad has modern equipment. It should enable me to strengthen my limbs and improve my body movements,” added Sandeep.
There was no movement in his left arm due to shoulder dislocation post the traumatic accident. He had slight movement in his left hand. Post-surgery, he was discharged from the hospital in June 2020 and went to Allahabad.
“Due to the pandemic I couldn’t go out for rehab. I was confined to my home. It was difficult time,” he said.
However, in December 2020, Sandeep made efforts to search for a rehab center and landed in New Delhi. After four months of rehab he realized the progress was poor. With the hope of walking again last month, Sandeep shifted to Hyderabad’s rehab center.
“Since I am able to move both hands and am able to sit on the chair without support, my confidence has gone up. The basic or marginal improvement has given me hope that one day I would be able to walk again,” he said from Hyderabad.