She was the “stereotypical poor kid” who sat under a streetlight to study for her exams. Born the eldest of three siblings in Faridabad, Kiran Kanojia faced several obstacles in her education. Her parents, who ironed clothes for a living, barely made enough to pay her fees.
Yet, supported by a customer of her parents who saw her potential, she not only completed school but college as well, where she shone in academics and became a class topper early on.
Soon, she was picked to work at Infosys in Hyderabad as a test engineer. With the weight of her parents’ hopes on her back, Kiran set out to work in a new city.
For her first holiday, the 24-year-old caught a train back to Faridabad. She planned to spend her birthday on December 25th with her family. As the train slowed down before arriving in Delhi, two miscreants hopped on board. One of them snatched Kiran’s backpack. It was fastened to her shoulder, and Kiran got dragged along towards the door. Unable to brush her off, the thieves cruelly pushed her off the train.
Her left leg got jammed under the door. Terrible pain shot up her foot as it got crushed underneath.
Kiran’s co-passengers helped her back into the bogey, and she was rushed to a Faridabad hospital.
On Christmas Day 2011, the girl who shared her birthday with Jesus lay in a hospital bed and was made to sign a consent form allowing doctors to amputate her leg.
The decision left her faint. “So many questions flooded my mind. What would people think of me?” But her parents had no doubts: it was either her leg or her life. “Think of Sudha Chandran,” her father gently said. “She is a successful dancer and actress despite being an amputee.”
It took a few months for Kiran to hobble back to life, but depression took deep hold. The phantom-limb syndrome left her disoriented. If that wasn’t enough, it was discovered that a few staples used to seal the skin on her stump were not removed. These had become embedded in her muscles, causing intense pain. One of doctors then made a remark that Kiran would never forget: “You can walk, but you will never be able to run.”
Kiran made up her mind to prove him wrong.
After recovering enough to travel, Kiran returned to her job in Hyderabad. A friend connected her to Dakshin Rehabilitation Centre, where she got an artificial leg and running blade. “The organization not only encouraged me, but also made me realize that there is life beyond my accident,” she says, adding that meditation also helped.
“I started to control my thoughts and realized the power this gave me. The accident had broken my leg but could not break my spirit,” says the 30-year-old.
At the rehabilitation centre, Kiran learnt cycling to improve her balance and then was introduced to running. A group called Hyderabad Runners started training her to build her stamina and strength. Her parents trusted the new technology. “You have only lost a body part, but your mind is free,” they told her.
Kiran started running with the blade but could not cover even 400 metres at first. “Then gradually I was running 5 km, and then 10 km,” she recalls. Though the friction between the blade and her stump caused her great pain, the sense of accomplishment after crossing the finish line turned Kiran into a different person.
Soon, she completed a half-marathon, then six, getting faster each time. Her best timing is 2 hours 44 minutes at Mumbai Marathon 2015.
It’s not easy. Bruising, healing and pain management have become part of Kiran’s daily life. “People ask me, why do you run? Well, before my accident I led a typical corporate life. Now I live to inspire others – children, amputees, people with disabilities. I run for myself, I run for life. And each time I run, I know I am a winner.”
Lead image credit: Saurabh Chatterjee SIA Photography Workshops