Where you come from doesn’t define you is what this Paralympic champion from Bihar has proved to the world. Carrying hope and passion to do something good for the country, this 32-year-old man rose above fully-abled men to claim his success.
Born to a humble family in Rathaus Village of Madhubani district Bihar, Mohammad Shams Aalam Shaikh’s childhood was always surrounded with joy. While speaking to Life Beyond Numbers about his extraordinary journey, he says, “Disability cannot conquer you if you carry hope in your mind. With determination, you can make the impossible possible. Nothing can deter you to follow your dreams.”
“Sports run in my blood and therefore my childhood was always surrounded by sports like swimming, cricket, tipcat, and wrestling. My grandfather was a wrestler and quite popular in Bihar, West Bengal, and Nepal.”
Finding Ability In Disability
In 2010, Aalam was diagnosed with a benign tumor which led to the spinal cord injury. Doctors informed him that he will be back to normal in 15 days. Unfortunately, the operation turned out to be an unsuccessful one and there was no improvement in his lower body.
“Post operation, I used to feel the same compression in my spinal cord and after the second MRI, it was revealed that my tumor was not completely removed. I never believed that life is full of despair, but that day my dreams shattered,” says Aalam.
“Being the sole breadwinner of my family, it was difficult to cope up with the fact that I am disabled. I barely finished my mechanical engineering and when you see your family’s hope for you crashing down, it is the most terrible feeling in the world. I slowly slipped into depression but hardly did I realize that my life is about to change.”
“After the spinal cord injury, my parents Mohammad Nasir and Shakeela Khatoon used to inspire me by citing examples from dadaji’s achievements,” says Aalam.
It was only after joining the paraplegic foundation for rehabilitation, Alam came across disabled people like him and he could immediately develop a connection with them. “It is like coming across people and getting united by pain,” says Aalam. He made few friends over there and was very fond of Yusuf Khan, who was the caretaker of the organization, who used to say “ If Allah closes one door, he opens another and he only chooses people close to him.”
How Swimming Became A Part Of His Life
I have believed that I am no less than people around me, says Aalam. “I can do good for the community, for the nation and its people. Being a differently-abled doesn’t stop you from doing good. There should be a sense of accountability towards society and we should question ourselves how much we can contribute.”
Being a differently-abled doesn’t stop you from doing good. There should be a sense of accountability towards society and we should question ourselves how much we can contribute.
Aalam chose sports over his dream as he wanted to make his country proud and says that he really feel blessed for the opportunities he got in this life. “My mother used to remind me that how much I was fond of swimming and that whenever I swam in a pond near my house, people use to clap out of amazement.”
His family relocated to Mumbai when he was 5 years old from where he completed his education right from schooling, B.Ed. to pursuing Mechanical engineering. While pursuing engineering classes, he scored terribly but his physics teacher really supported him and told him to focus on sports. Later, he also opted for MBA in human resource from Sathaybama University, Chennai.
Aalam had a great interest in learning karate and completed his black belt diploma in 2008. “I have won more than 50 medals in karate from the district, state, national and international championship. Now, I also participate in wheelchair karate.”
“After my spinal cord injury, I got a chance to speak with Mr. Raja Ram Ghag, Satyaprakash Tiwari and Amol Boriwale who motivated me to take up swimming.” Without any hesitation, I started practicing and got a chance to participate in Maharashtra state Paralympic swimming championship where I got a silver and bronze in freestyle and backstroke.
In Helping Others, You Help Yourself
Apart from being a Paralympic champion, Alam is a motivational speaker too and has delivered many inspiring speeches in various schools, colleges, and universities.
“I have seen that for some disabled sportsperson, it is difficult to accept that they are disabled. The hard part is accepting it and understanding your strength and weaknesses. I talk about how to set a goal, where do I draw inspiration from and how to change your disabilities into abilities by adapting sports in rehabilitation centers.”
“Coming out from the shell of depression is important and so is believing in yourself. These are the best things you can do to help yourself. Taking yourself one step ahead and never doubting yourself or losing hope will do wonders. You have to free yourself from the imaginary rope that you have tied to yourself of fear and insecurities. Disability cannot stop you if you have hope in yourself.”
When Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Till now, Aalam has received more than 40 medals in total. His name is etched in 2016 Limca Book of Records. That same year, he was also awarded Karn International award in Bihar.
As a part of Beach Fest in 2017, Aalam took a challenge of the longest open sea swimming. He swam for 8kms in 4 hours and 4 minutes along the Sinquerim-Baga-Candolim sea in Goa. That same year, Aalam received the Best Outgoing Excellence Student award from Sathyabama University Chennai, Khel Samman by the Government of Bihar.
Recently, in 2018, he got Youth Icon Award and Shoorveer Award for his achievements. He has also been selected for global sports mentoring program as one among the top 18 Emerging leaders in the world by U.S department of state and University of Tennessee, 2018.
Besides winning titles, Aalam wants to make this world an accessible place for paraplegic people. He believes that when it comes to their dreams and aspirations, it is no different from those of fully-abled people.
Why is Proper Conditioning of Mind Among Children Important?
People might stare at you, but maybe it is not a bad thing after all. People are simply curious at times and you accept your situation and deformity, then humiliation or insults cannot fill your thoughts.
“We don’t need sympathy, all we need is love and understanding,” says Aalam. Adding to this, he says, “I take care of things on my own, do things I love to do and I believe that makes me an independent individual.”
On asking whether proper conditioning of mind is necessary since childhood, he says, “I do feel the conditioning of mind should start from the school itself. Teachers need to teach children to see everyone as equal. This will help them to bond better with disabled kids or people later in their life.”
Apart from teachers, Government needs to step up by improving the training facilities and job opportunities for people with disabilities, he adds.
Currently, Aalam is training with help of fitness experts Mr. Memon John to participate in 2018 Para Asian Games at Indonesia and 2020 Paralympic Games at Tokyo, Japan.
What Aalam has achieved today is because of the determination and hope he carries with himself and how he has accepted himself for who he is.
The least we can do for disabled people are accepting them as normal and stop calling them inspirational all the time or shower sympathy whenever we come across them. A well-known author, Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Change your thoughts and change your world”. Don’t you think this is what we all should strive for?